Author Archives: admin

Ironmonger Lane – Two Thousand Years of History

A couple of week’s ago I was in ironmonger Lane in the City of London, a narrow lane running between Cheapside and Gresham Street.

The buildings in the lane are relatively recent, and difficult to photograph due to the width of the lane, however Ironmonger Lane has a fascinating history, so for this week’s post, let me take you on a journey through time starting with the earliest traces of habitation in ironmonger Lane.

As with many City streets, ironmonger Lane suffered bomb damage in the last war, hence the relatively young age of the buildings that line the lane today.

The bomb damaged remains of number 11 Ironmonger Lane were being demolished after the war and the Guildhall Museum led an excavation of the site.

Number 11 is in the centre of the photo below:

Ironmonger Lane

Adrian Oswald, working on behalf of the Guildhall Museum excavated the site, and 16 feet below street level the remains of a Roman house and Roman mosaic were found.

Ironmonger Lane

The excavation was notable at the time as this was the first Roman mosaic that had been found since excavations at the Bank of England.

The mosaic and house were dated to around the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

It is intriguing to imagine that Ironmonger Lane was a street in Roman times, and this was the earliest traces of the buildings and people living in this part of the City.

Ironmonger Lane

The next traces of occupation in Ironmonger Lane are possible 9th to 11th century foundations found in the churchyard of St. Olave during an excavation in 1985 / 86. The churchyard is in the centre of the lane, and Roman bricks were also found during the excavations, providing further evidence of Roman building.

Early in the 12th century, Thomas Becket, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury and murdered at Canterbury Cathedral at the apparent command of King Henry II, was born in a house on the corner of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside, a plaque marks the site today:

Ironmonger Lane

The Becket family owned part of the land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane and alongside Cheapside.

Also in the 12th century, we see the first references to the church of St Olave (roughly half way along the lane), although certainly much older, and also to the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon (dedicated to Thomas a Becket), when hospitals were mainly religious establishments.

The Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was founded in 1227 on land at the southern end of Ironmonger Lane, between ironmonger Lane and Old Jewry, facing onto Cheapside.

The hospital would be important for how we see the southern end of Ironmonger Lane today.

Now for my first map. This is John Rocque’s map of 1746, although I have not yet reached the 18th century, the map is helpful in showing the location of some of these 12th century establishments.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane is in the centre of the map. Cheapside at the southern end, and Cateaton Street (which would later become Gresham Street) at the northern end.

Look to the southern end, and to the right of Ironmonger Lane is a block of building and the abbreviation “Cha” for Chapel – this is the area where Thomas a Becket was born and also the site of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The hospital was built on land purchased from the Becket family. The name Acon is the anglicised version of Acre (now part of Israel), and dates from the Third Crusade between 1189 and 1191, and possibly originates from an order of monks / knights formed during the Crusade and the siege of Acre.

In Rocque’s map, you can see that the Mercers Hall is also shown where the hospital was located.

The Mercers Company represented the interest of merchants who traded in materials such as wool, linens and silks and it was the Mercers who became patrons of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, and used the hospital’s chapel as a ceremonial meeting site from when the chapel was built in the 13th century in 1248.

Also in the 13th century, the second church in Ironmonger Lane is first mentioned. This is the church of St Martin Pomary which was located between the church of St Olave and Ironmonger Lane – two churches adjacent to each other. To see how close these churches were, look at Roqcue’s map above, to the left of St Olave, you will see the text “St Martin’s Church Yard”.

I have not yet mentioned anything about the name – Ironmongers Lane.

The name relates to the trade of Iron Mongers as in the medieval City, trades generally clustered around specific streets. The first mention of the name is from the 13th century, and there were many variants of the name, starting with Ysmongeres Lane, with other variations between the 13th and 14th centuries. The Agas map of 1561 records the street as Iremongers Lane.

The ironmongers would not stay too long in the area as it appears they have moved to the Fenchurch Street area in the 15th century – so the name is a remarkable survival of a medieval trade with a specific area.

In the 15th century, the Mercers were continuing their long association with the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon as in 1407 the Mercers purchased their own chapel in the Hospital’s church.

Moving a century later, and the 16th century was a time of dramatic change in ironmonger Lane.

In 1524, the Mercers built their first Hall on land purchased from the Hospital.

In 1538, the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was taken over by the Crown during the dissolution. The Mercers negotiated the purchase of the land, and subsequently purchased all the hospital’s properties, and the company built the Mercers School on part of the land. I suspect they were a company never to pass by a good commercial opportunity.

The Agas map of 1561 shows Ironmonger Lane densely built, with the church on the east side of the street and the Mercers Hall facing onto Cheapside.

Now travel forward to the 17th century and in 1665, as with the rest of London, the occupants of Ironmonger Lane lived in dread of the plague, and as a preventative measure, the Mercers closed their school.

The following year, 1666, the Great Fire took hold of the area and burnt down the churches of St Martin Pomary and St Olave, along with the Mercers Hall.

Wren rebuilt the church of St Olave in the 1670s, but St Martin Pomary was not rebuilt, the parish was amalgamated with that of St Olave.

The Mercers second Hall and Chapel on the site were also rebuilt, opening in 1676 to continue the Mercers long association with ironmonger Lane. The fire had also destroyed all remaining evidence of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

In the 19th century, Ironmonger Lane was a busy commercial street in the heart of the City.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows St Olave and Mercers Hall, along with a Police Station and a Public House at number 11 – this was Mullen’s Hotel.

Ironmonger Lane

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Census reports provide an insight into Ironmonger Lane, and the City of London in general. In the 1861 census, it was recorded that there were 23 people living in the Mullens Hotel at number 11:

  • 5 family members and the owner of the hotel
  • 8 workers, all female and listed as servants
  • 10 visitors to the hotel including;
    • Drapers from Ireland
    • Drapers from Cornwall (one with two sons)
    • A Commercial Traveler from Norwich

As ever, London was a temporary home for travelers who had business in the City.

In 1892, the church of St Olave was demolished, apart from the tower of the church. The demolition was under legislation brought in to reduce the number of City churches. The tower was converted into a rectory for St Margaret Lothbury.

The tower is difficult to photograph from street level when the trees are in leaf, but it is there.

Ironmonger Lane

View of St Olave as it appeared in 1830, before demolition of the body of the church and with the tower visible from ironmonger Lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8051273

The gates that lead from the street into the old churchyard of St Martin Pomary with the tower of St Olave behind.

Ironmonger Lane

So into the 20th century, and Ironmonger Lane suffered badly from bombing during the Second World War.

The Mercers Hall, built after the Great Fire, was destroyed during the night of the 10th / 11th May 1941, and it was bomb damage that opened up number 11 to the excavation work that revealed the Roman house and mosaic.

Walking the street today, and we can still see the tower of St Olave, the old church of St Martin Pomary would have been just to the right and in front of the tower.

A number of parish boundary markers can be seen on the walls of buildings along the street, including that of St Martin Pomary:

Ironmonger Lane

The third Mercers Hall is at the southern end of the street, rebuilt after the Second World War. If you look on the corner of the hall, and along the hall and buildings along the south eastern side of Ironmonger Lane, you will see several carvings of the head and shoulders of a woman with a crown.

Ironmonger Lane

The figure is part of the armourial bearings of the Mercers Company, known as a Mercers Maiden, the figure is probably that of the Virgin Mary, although there is no written evidence to confirm this.

Ironmonger Lane

Ironmonger Lane

The Mercers have long been associated with the charitable building of houses across London, and there would have been a carving, or statue of a Mercers Maiden on the outside of the building. I have photographed a number of these including a very fine example alongside the church of St Dunstan and All Saints Stepney, and also along Hardinge Street.

The Ironmongers Lane entrance to Mercers Hall:

Ironmonger Lane

The following photo shows the view along Cheapside. The entrance to Ironmonger Lane is just to the left of the red circled street signs..

Ironmonger Lane

The large building running along Cheapside in the centre of the photo occupies the land between Ironmongers Lane and Old Jewry originally the location of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon.

The following drawing shows the Mercers Hall occupying the same site in 1881. Ironmonger Lane is at the left.

Ironmonger Lane

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q7707062

The above view shows the post Great Fire version of the hall after considerable refurbishment. It was this version of the hall that was destroyed in May 1941.

The photo of the building from Cheapside shows more memorials to Thomas a Becket on the building corner at the junction of Ironmonger Lane and Cheapside..

Ironmonger Lane

It was the original association of the Mercers Company with the Becket family dating back to the 12th century, and their patronage of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, that almost 900 years later has the Mercers Hall still on the same site.

Looking up Ironmongers Lane from Cheapside, the open space on the right is at the entrance to the Mercers Hall, the narrow width of the lane can be seen continuing north.

Ironmonger Lane

There are a couple of passages leading off from ironmongers Lane.

The wonderfully named Prudent Passage leads to King Street. originally this was Sun Alley, and this original name was in use in the 18th century, with the first mention of Prudent Passage being in 1875.

Ironmonger Lane

St Olave’s Court runs to Old Jewry, alongside the location of the church of St Olave, and probably over the site of St Martin Pomary.

Ironmonger Lane

The view looking north towards the junction with Gresham Street:

Ironmonger Lane

The view south along Ironmonger Lane from Gresham Street showing the narrow width of the lane.

Ironmonger Lane

Number 11 Ironmonger Lane is just along the lane on the left. No longer a hotel, a new building was constructed on the site following the 1949 excavations, and refurbished a number of times since, and it is here that the Roman house and mosaics were found, which brings us full circle on almost 2,000 years of history of Ironmonger Lane.

alondoninheritance.com

HMS President and the Oxo Tower

In 1947 my father was standing on the north bank of the River Thames, slightly west of Blackfriars Bridge, and took this photo looking across the river to the Oxo tower on the south bank and a sign on the river for HMS President.

HMS President

72 years later, I took a photo of the same view:

HMS President

The Oxo tower is still there as a significant south bank landmark, although the rest of the south bank view in the original photo has changed considerably.

All trace of HMS President has disappeared.

HMS President is the name given to the location of the Royal Naval Reserve in London. The current location of HMS President is shore based, occupying a riverside building and river access along St Katharine’s Way, just to the east of Tower Bridge. The onshore move was made in 1988 when the base on the river was sold, and it is this incarnation of HMS President that had made a brief departure when my father took the photo in 1947.

Up until the 1988 move to a shore location, HMS President was the name given to the ship used as a base for the Royal Naval Reserve, with the first ship taking the name being used as a Royal Navy Drill Ship (before the formation of the Volunteer Reserve as it was known in 1903), being based in the West India Docks.

The ship that was temporarily away when my father took the 1947 photo, was originally HMS Saxifrage, built in Renfrew, Scotland in 1918. She was from a class of ships called Q Ships. These were ships designed as ordinary merchant ships, but heavily armed and with the aim of luring submarines into making a surface attack (believing that the ship was not armed), and therefore being able to attack the submarine on the surface, rather than the almost random dropping of depth charges.

The following photo is off HMS Saxifrage alongside a jetty, just after completion:

HMS President

HMS SAXIFRAGE (FL 4510) Alongside a jetty on completion. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120412

Being completed at the end of the First World War, HMS Saxifrage only saw active service in the final months of the war, including some engagements with U boats, one of which was sunk with depth charges after an exchange of gun fire. In 1922 she took on the role of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship and was moored at Blackfriars with a name change to HMS President.

Despite the Royal Naval Reserve moving onshore in 1988, the ship continued to be moored at Blackfriars as it had been sold, and was then used as a location for private events.

The ship only moved from Blackfriars a couple of years ago to make way for the building site that has taken over the location as this is now one of the construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, part of which can be seen in my 2019 photo.

Turning to look to the east from where I took the 2019 photo, this is the original entry to HMS President from the Embankment, now just a set of closed off steps leading to a drop into the river.

HMS President

This is the view of the Thames Tideway Tunnel construction site, which was occupied by HMS President.

HMS President

I looked back through my photo collection, and the last photo I had taken of HMS President before the ship moved, was in 2014 when the ship was decorated as a “dazzle ship”.

HMS President

Dazzle ship camouflage was intended to optically distort the view of the ship at sea and make the ship harder to locate and attack. This method of camouflage started to be used in the First World War and the 2014 painting of the ship in this style was by the artist Tobia Rehberger as part of the 14-18 Now World War 1 centenary art commissions.

HMS President in 2014 looks very much like a ship, however this was not the appearance when the ship left Blackfriars in 1947. When HMS Saxifrage was converted to become the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ship, the ship was not intended to sail at sea, or indeed on the river. The ship needed to provide accommodation space for training, a drill hall and act as a recruiting centre. The hull of the ship was retained, but a series of, what can almost be described as sheds, were built along the top of the hull.

This gave HMS President a rather strange appearance, and the view of the ship on the Embankment was often criticised for its rather cobbled together construction.

The recruiting function of HMS President is clear from the sign in the 1947 photo which reads “Recruiting every Wednesday 18:30 to 19:30. Annual bounty and training allowance paid. Training with the fleet.”

Removing the ship from Blackfriars, and transporting to Chatham Dockyard where the ship would undergo a full refit and replacement of all the buildings on top of the hull, was a difficult exercise.

This photo shows HMS President being moved away from the Blackfriars mooring. The series of sheds on the top of the ship can be clearly seen.

HMS President

The photo below is of the ship being towed towards Blackfriars Bridge. What is interesting in the photos above and below is the difference in the views of the north and south banks of the Thames. The view of the north bank is much the same as seen today, however the industrialised south bank seen in the photo below has changed completely. Note the Shot Tower at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge.

HMS President

Getting HMS President under Blackfriars Bridge was a rather tight squeeze.

HMS President

The time had to be carefully planned, as the tide had to be low enough to get the ship under the bridge, but there needed to be sufficient depth of water to ensure the ship could be floated.

When HMS President returned a few years later, the ship was restored to what would be the expected appearance of a ship, including the all important funnel, but there was still space for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to carry out their training and drill activities.

The building across the river in the 1947 photo is the Oxo building with the Oxo tower.

HMS President

The site was originally occupied by Old Barge House Wharf, Old Barge House Corn Wharf and Iron Wharf. On the western edge of the site was Old Barge House Stairs, and these can still be found today leading down from the corner of the Oxo building. These are old stairs as they are shown on Rocque’s 1746 map of London.

The wharves were demolished in the late 19th century to make way for a power station for the Royal Mail. The site was then acquired by the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, manufacturer of Oxo meat extracts and Oxo stock cubes. and the new building, constructed as a cold store was completed by 1929. The original facade of the power station was retained, with the rest of the building demolished to create the new cold store.

The story associated with the letters being part of the window design is that permission was not given for an illuminated brand name to be part of the original building design, so the letters became part of the window design.

I have no idea whether this is true, however in the 1947 photo you can also see the name Oxo in large letters across the top of the facade of the building.

By the 1970s, the site was empty and was in a bad state of repair. There were plans to demolish the building, along with a redevelopment of the surrounding space, however the GLC purchased the building and then sold it to Coin Street Community Builders at a substantial discount.

I suspect this would never happen today – the building would be sold at the highest price and converted to either a hotel or expensive riverside apartments.

A major refurbishment of the building took place, which included a rebuild of most of the building behind the facade and the Oxo Tower Wharf building reopened in 1996, hosting a range of specialist shops, galleries and restaurants.

Returning to the site once occupied by HMS President, I walked over Blackfriars Bridge to look back at the Thames Tideway construction site,

HMS President

The Thames Tideway Tunnel, or super sewer as it is also known, is a major construction project, building a new intercept sewer that follows the Thames until Limehouse, where it cuts in land before reaching the Beckton treatment works. The aim of the new sewer is to intercept the sewers as they fall towards the Thames and prevent overflows into the river at times of high rainfall.

The route of the Thames Tideway Tunnel:

HMS President

There are a number of river construction sites where a shaft is being sunk down to the sewer tunnel. The area covered by these construction sites will be turned into an extension of the Embankment, so when construction is finished, the site in the photo below will be new public space.

HMS President

I photographed the view from Blackfriars Bridge in 2014, before HMS President moved. In this photo below, HMS President is the first ship on the right. The old Blackfriars pier is at the extreme right of the photo.

HMS President

This is the same view, five years later in 2019.

HMS President

The Tideway Tunnel construction site is on the right. When construction finishes, this will be the site of the new extension of the Embankment into the river, so the view will not return to that of 2014.

Note on the left side of the photo how the Oxo Tower is not now an isolated tower on the south bank when seen from Blackfriars Bridge. The new towers around the Shell Centre buildings in the background have changed this view.

HMS President is now in Chatham docks. The name of the ship has been changed back to HMS Saxifrage and restoration work in underway.

The name Saxifrage refers to the Saxifrage genus of plants which includes the variety London Pride – so a tenuous London connection between the original name of the ship, and the city where she would spend so many years.

HMS President was not the only naval training ship on the river along this section of the Embankment. HMS Chrysanthemum (which provided additional space for the naval reserve), was moored a short distance further west, and opposite Temple underground station was a ship used by the Sea Scouts.

To finish this week’s post, here is an extract from my father’s write up of his wartime diaries from the year 1942, where he talks about being a Sea Scout on a Thames training ship and their activities along the river:

“Opposite Temple Station lay the S.S. Discovery, the ship in which Captain Scott had sailed to the ant-arctic. The ship was used by the Sea Scouts which I had joined, and permanently manned by a small crew of teenage orphans, presided over by a grizzled old salt whose party piece was to accurately spit into the Galley Stove. My group, the Saint Pancras Sea Scouts, based at Tufnell Park, and very proud to be allotted Captain Scott’s cabin, would meet there every Sunday, to be taught seamanship and river craft. Part of our ‘job’ on the river was to sail a Whaler, several of us on either side of the boat, one oar each, the Skipper in the stern, a lookout in the bow, as far as Tower Bridge in one direction and Pimlico in the other, dependent on fog which could be hairy with a steamer bearing down on us. 

Sea Scouts were an unpaid adjunct to the River Police so as we journeyed along the Thames, barges and lighters would be boarded to check that all was secure, and anything suspicious investigated. 

A crowd would always be gazing at us from the Embankment, and if any pretty young girls were to the fore we would show off by performing dangerous climbs on the rigging, and I would eat my sandwiches suspended hammock like on the cables underneath the bowsprit.

However, my greatest claim to fame and humiliation was to loose my footing on the slippery gangway and fall into the cold and filthy river. the whole of Sunday afternoon was spent below decks trying to dry my sodden clothes over the stove.” 

alondoninheritance.com

Old Barrack Yard and the Chinese Collection

Before heading to Old Barrack Yard for today’s post, a quick update to last week’s post on Seven St Martin’s Place.  Thank you for all the feedback, personal links with the site and thoughts on who could have created the reliefs on the front of the building.

Through Twitter, TheTaoOfOat sent me this link to a site which included some posts from the original sculptor’s daughter. Hubert Dalwood was the sculptor who was commissioned to create the reliefs for the Ionian Bank. The material is aluminium which probably makes them rather unique.

I have been in contact with Hubert’s daughter, Kathy Dalwood, who is also a sculptor, to discover more about the background to these reliefs, and she will be letting me have some more information when she returns from travel. I have also e-mailed the developer to ask whether the reliefs will remain with the new hotel development.

Thanks again for all the feedback, it is brilliant to be able to bring some recognition to these wonderful reliefs and I will update the blog post as I get more information.

Now to the subject of today’s post – Old Barrack Yard.

I was in Knightsbridge last Tuesday on a rather wet July day. Leaving the underground station at Hyde Park Corner, I headed west along Knightsbridge, and a short distance along, turned south into Old Barrack Yard. The part I was interested in was not the street that connects directly onto Knightsbridge (which is a building site at the moment), but a bit further along after where the street turns east, there is a southern branch heading down towards Wilton Row.

I have marked the location in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Old Barrack Yard

My father took a number of photos of Old Barrack Yard on a rather sunny day in 1949:

Old Barrack Yard

Seventy years later, I photographed the same scene on a very wet day:

Old Barrack Yard

Although the weather conditions are very different, and my use of colour photography also tends to suggest a difference in the two scenes (I often wonder whether I should switch to black & white for these comparison photos) – the scene is very much the same, apart from some minor cosmetic differences.

The paving stones do though appear to be different in the two photos.

The name – Old Barrack Yard – provides a clue as to the history of the area.

The following map extract is from Horwood’s map of London, created between 1792 and 1795. The large block in the centre of the map is Knightsbridge Barracks.

Old Barrack Yard

Stabling for the Grenadier Guards were in use here around 1762, and by 1780 barracks had been fitted out, with an entrance through to Knightsbridge, allowing direct access to Hyde Park.

Ornate gardens had been created to the south of the barracks and a large yard was to the right of the barracks – part of this yard and the gardens to the south are the location of Old Barrack Yard today.

The military released the barracks in the 1830s, and the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 map of London shows how the area had developed:

Old Barrack Yard

The barrack block can still be seen, and on the western edge of the original gardens, just below the barracks, is the church of St. Paul’s, built in the early 1840s. The yard can still be seen to the right of the barracks, and a crescent of housing has been built up to the corner of the church – this is Wilton Row.

Note that to the right of the old barracks block is the abbreviation “Exh” – this refers to an exhibition that was established here in the 1840s using parts of the yard and the old barracks.

The Chinese Collection was an exhibition of Chinese artifacts collected by an American merchant, Nathan Dunn, who had spent 12 years in Canton. The exhibition had previously been on display in the United States, but brought to London at the encouragement of a number of learned societies and individuals. Interest in China was high at the time with the first Opium War about to be brought to a successful close with the signing of a peace treaty with the Chinese in Nanking.

The Illustrated London News reported on the Chinese Collection in August 1842:

“Upon the left-hand side of the inclined plan, extending from Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge, and towards the extremity of St. George’s-place, a grotesque erection has lately sprung up with all the rapidity which distinguishes the building operations of the present day.

As the work proceeded, many were the guesses at the purpose for which it was intended; and to feed the suspense of the many thousands who daily pass this thoroughfare, the work was covered with canvas until just completed. The structure in question is the entrance to an extensive apartment filled with ‘curiosities of China’. In the design this entrance is characteristically Chinese, and is taken from the model of a summer residence now in the collection. It is of two stories, the veranda roof of the lower one being supported by vermilion-coloured columns, with pure white capitals. and over the doorway is inscribed in Chinese characters ‘Ten Thousand Chinese Things’. Such summer-houses as the above are usual in the gardens of the wealthy in the southern provinces of China, often standing in the midst of a sheet of water, and approached by bridges, and sometimes they have mother-of-pearl windows.

Although the above building is raised from the pathway, whence it is approached by a flight of steps, it is somewhat squatly proportioned. But such is the character of Chinese buildings, so that when the Emperor Kesen-king saw a perspective of a street in Paris or London he observed, ‘that territory must be very small whose inhabitants were obliged to pile their houses to the clouds;’ and, in a poem on London, by a Chinese visitor it is stated – ‘The houses are so lofty that you may pluck the stars’.

The collection we are about cursorily to notice, has been formed by the American gentleman, Mr. Nathan Dunn, who resided in China for a period of twelve years, and experienced more courtesy from the Chinese than generally falls to the lot of foreigners.

The design at first was merely to collect a few rare specimens for a private cabinet; but the appetite grew with what it fed upon, and thus Mr. Dunn has assembled what may, without exaggeration, be termed the Chinese world in miniature; and, it is equally true, that by means of this collection, we may, in some sense, analyse the mental and moral qualities of the Chinese, and gather some knowledge of their idols, their temples, their pagodas, their bridges, their arts, their sciences, their manufactures, their trades , the fancies, their parlours, their drawing rooms, their cloths, their finery, their ornaments, their weapons of war, their vessels, their dwellings, and the thousands of et ceteras.”

The approving description of the Chinese Collection in the Illustrated London News continued for a few more hundreds words. The exhibition was a considerable success, and was the place to be seen in 1842.

A view of the interior of the Chinese Collection:

Old Barrack Yard

The Chinese Collection exhibition closed in 1846, and in 1847 the pagoda that had been built for the exhibition at the entrance to Old Barrack Yard was purchased by James Pennethorne and relocated to an island in the lake at Victoria Park, Hackney, where it could be found until 1956.

By 1895 the barrack’s had disappeared (partly demolished in the 1840s, with final demolition in the late 1850s), and the buildings that form the lower part of Old Barrack Yard, photographed by my father, can be seen in the following map extract.

Old Barrack Yard

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The upper part of Old Barrack Yard was still there, however this area would be developed in the 20th century, leaving Old Barrack Yard as a street that runs from Knightsbridge, turns to the east, then south into the section focused on in today’s post.

The entrance to Old Barrack Yard from the north is through a building that separates off this southern section of the street. The view from the end of the entrance arch:Old Barrack Yard

The same view in 2019 on a very wet July day (although with the cloud cover, i did not have the contrast problems that my father had on a very sunny day):Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the arch and this is the view looking back:

Old Barrack Yard

The same view today;

Old Barrack Yard

There are a number of references, including in the latest Conservation Area Audit by Westminster City Council, that the buildings around the arched entrance, shown in the above photos are part of the original stables for the barracks. My only concern is that they do not appear in the maps prior to 1895, although being stable buildings they may have been considered as part of the yard and therefore not shown as separate structures.

The top section opens out with the potential stable buildings surrounding a wider section of Old Barrack Yard, so this part of the street does have the appearance of a stabling area. The final, southern section is composed of a narrow walkway, separated from the stables area by three bollards, which appeared in the 1949 photos and remain to this day.

Two and three storey, early 19th century buildings line this final section of Old Barrack Yard.

Old Barrack Yard

1949 above and 2019 below. the tall buildings directly behind the old stables detract from their appearance, but Old Barrack Yard remains much the same.

Old Barrack Yard

A landscape view of the same scene:

Old Barrack Yard

I really like small details that remain the same – the leaning lamp-post, the access covers on the ground, the bollards, the drainage channel.

Old Barrack Yard

Walking backup, this is a wider view of what could have been part of the original stables for the barracks. The appearance perfectly fits the function of a stables, with a wider space between the buildings than in the rest of the street, with large openings on the ground floor for stables, rather than brickwork.

Old Barrack Yard

At the southern end of Old Barrack Yard is the side of the Grenadier pub. There is a doorway at the end Old Barrack Yard which provides access to steps that lead down into Wilton Row.

Old Barrack Yard

Looking back up from the southern end of Old Barrack Yard:

Old Barrack Yard

Walking through the gate at the end of Old Barrack Yard and down the steps takes us into Wilton Row. This is the view looking back on the Grenadier pub. The gate to Old Barrack Yard is on the right.

Old Barrack Yard

Parts of the Grenadier building could date from 1720, when it may have been part of the officers mess for the barracks. Again, my only concern is that the pub is not shown as a separate building on any of the maps prior to 1895.

To try to trace the age of the pub, I have been searching newspapers for any references.

The very first reference dates from 1828, when on the 20th February 1828, the Morning Advertiser carried an advert, with a rather shocking exclusion:

“WANTED a thorough SERVANT for a Public-House. One with a good character may apply at the Grenadier, Knightsbridge Infantry Barracks – No Irish need apply”

That last sentence is still shocking to see in print. The address implies that the pub was part of the infantry barracks, which makes sense as the pre-1895 maps may not have gone into detail with the structures within the barracks and barrack yard.

I have also found a couple of references that for a short period the pub was called the Guardsman. I have been trying to find newspaper references to confirm, and have only found one. In the Morning Advertiser on the 16th October 1856 there is the following advert:

“BRICKS – FOR SALE. 150,000 Bricks, 10,000 Pantiles, 20,000 plain Tiles, at the Life Guardsman public-house, Knightsbridge, and six adjoining houses. Inquire on the Premises.”

I am not aware of any other pub in Knightsbridge with this name, although given the barracks in Knightsbridge, this may be a possibility, however the late 1850s are when the final remains of the old barrack buildings were demolished, so the sale at the pub may have been of the demolished remains of the old barrack block.

What is clear is that the Grenadier is an old pub, and has its origins in the infantry barracks that occupied the area  for many years.

The Grenadier in 1951:

Old Barrack Yard

Old Barrack Yard is part of the very extensive Grosvenor Estate land, and is also within the Belgravia Conservation Area, this last classification should help Old Barrack Yard, with its references back to the original infantry barracks in Knightsbridge, survive for many more years.

Any signs of the Chinese Collection have long since disappeared. After the exhibition closed, the collection toured the country and then returned to the United States. It did later return to London,  when it opened at Albert Gate in 1851, not far from the original location. The Chinese Collection was not as popular this second time round, and closed a year later, with items from the collection then being sold at auction.

Old Barrack Yard is one of those hidden locations where you can walk from a very busy street into a totally different place. Whilst I was there, very few people walked through the street. Most of the people I saw were workers from the neighbouring hotels and offices using the arch at the top of the yard to smoke or make phone calls whilst sheltering from the rain.

It is well worth a visit, with the Grenadier pub an added bonus.

alondoninheritance.com

Seven St Martin’s Place and London Hotel Growth

London changes at such a rate that it seems every time you walk down a street, there is new building work underway. I was recently walking down Charing Cross Road towards Trafalgar Square and saw scaffolding and sheeting around this building – Seven St Martin’s Place.

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin’s Place is between the church of St Martin in the Fields and William IV Street and faces the Edith Cavell Memorial.

There is nothing very special about the building. It is a late 1950s office block with retail space along the ground floor. The company I worked for in the early 1980s had a couple of floors in the building.

What the building does have is a rather good location. Opposite the National Gallery, less than a minute’s walk from Trafalgar Square, at the southern end of Charing Cross Road and close to the Strand – a prime west London location.

The location of the building is shown by the red rectangle in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) .

Seven St Martin's Place

The reason for the building work at Seven St Martin’s Place is that the building is being converted to a hotel.

The City of Westminster planning decision approves a change of use for the first to fourth floors from offices to hotel accommodation along with extensions at the fifth floor roof level to create a new rooftop restaurant and bar with external terrace,

The existing ground floor retail units will be reconfigured and new retail space created, both at ground and basement levels.

The hotel will consist of 136 bedrooms and be operated by the Butterfly Hotel Group, a Hong Kong based hotel company.

The redevelopment of Seven St Martin’s Place mirrors so much other development across London, where almost any property that becomes available, or can be purchased, is converted to either apartments or hotels. Not in itself a bad thing, providing that residential apartments are affordable, which is rare, or that the diversity of use found across London streets is not restricted.

The planning decision states that whilst “Policy S20 of the City Plan July 2016” resists the loss of offices to residential use, there is no policy that resists the loss of office space to hotel use. Apparently because it is also another use that generates employment, so providing the proposal meets regulations such as noise control, light, appearance, access etc. there is no reason to turn down the application, although an additional Policy S23 does state that existing hotels must be protected and that there are no adverse effects on residential amenity.

I suspect that with the demand for hotel rooms in London, very few applications are turned down.

Building name above the original entrance to the building:

Seven St Martin's Place

The conversion of Seven St Martin’s Place did get me wondering about how many hotels there are in London and the level of growth as there does seem to be new hotels opening all the time, and at what point is saturation reached?

There are a number of reports available, and a report by London & Partners (the Mayor of London’s official promotional agency) titled “London Hotel Development Monitor – The Investment Hotspot” provides an overview.

The function of the agency is to promote London and the report is very much focused on promoting the city as a tourist destination and the opportunities for hotel development that tourism brings.

The report states that:

  • In July 2018 there were 140,000 hotel rooms in London
  • An additional 11,600 rooms were expected to be built by 2020
  • Room occupancy is significantly high. In 2018, 79.6% of rooms were occupied, slightly behind Dublin (82%), but higher than Dubai (76.4%), Paris (77.1%), Berlin (74.7%) and Rome (70.1%)

An earlier report stated that the City of Westminster had the most hotels, with 433, with Kensington and Chelsea being second at 189. The City of London had 68 hotels.

The report highlights the impact of the 2012 Olympics on the number of hotel rooms opened across London:

  • 2012: 8,133 new hotel rooms
  • 2013: 1,833 new hotel rooms
  • 2014: 5.442 new hotel rooms
  • 2015: 3,117 new hotel rooms

The money involved is significant with the report claiming hotel investment in 2015 was £3.9 billion.

This level of growth and investment is expected to continue. A working paper “Projections of demand and supply for visitor accommodation in London to 2050” (Greater London Authority – April 2017) provides a projection of visitor numbers to London over the coming decades, with International visitor growth expected to be:

  • 2015 – 18.581 million
  • 2020 – 19.992 million
  • 2025 – 21.215 million
  • 2030 – 22.439 million
  • 2036 – 23.907 million
  • 2041 – 25.130 million
  • 2050 – 27.332 million

Domestic visitors to London, staying overnight will also be growing significantly in the same period;

  • 2015 – 12.938 million
  • 2020 – 13.964 million
  • 2025 – 15.451 million
  • 2030 – 16.938 million
  • 2036 – 18.598 million
  • 2041 – 19.928 million
  • 2050 – 22.413 million

Projections are notoriously difficult to get right, but I suspect it is safe to assume that the number of hotels required in London will continue to grow significantly, and there will be many more redevelopments of existing buildings over the coming decades.

The closed Post Office on the ground floor of Seven St Martin’s Place – will this type of business ever return to the retail space of redeveloped buildings, with probably increased rents? The planning decision does confirm that space will be available for the Post Office should the company choose to return.

Seven St Martin's Place

The growth in hotels across London has been considerable, but to understand the impact on local communities, pricing pressure on the cost of housing, apartments and flats, costs for renting, we must also look at the growth of Airbnb in London, which has been dramatic over the last few years.

The Inside Airbnb site has some fascinating detail on the number and type of accommodation listed, cost, occupancy etc. The overview for London at the time of writing this post shows that for London there are:

  • A total of 77, 096 listings, of which;
  • 42,758 are entire homes or apartments
  • 33,594 are private rooms
  • 744 are shared rooms

The supporting data is downloadable. I was creating a graphic showing the number of Airbnb’s for each London borough, but ran out of time (I will add when complete), but for now, along with the new hotel being built, there are 9,411 Airbnb listings in Westminster.

The relative ease and low cost of global travel is driving the rise in tourism, and therefore the demand for accommodation in cities across the world. Other cities such as Venice and Barcelona are taking steps to control tourism, and the growth in Airbnb. These cities also have to manage the rise in tourists arriving by cruise ship – an issue which currently has minimal impact on London, apart from the occasional cruise ship moored by HMS Belfast or at Greenwich. Whilst these methods of travel do not require accommodation in the city, they do drive a high number of visitors who spend little in the host city.

Amsterdam is another city trying to manage ever increasing visitor numbers with a number of steps being taken including the Netherlands Tourist Board no longer actively promoting the country as a tourist destination.

The demand for land and buildings for hotel development is one of the many drivers behind the price of property across London.

In 2010, Seven St Martin’s Place was sold for £41 million and four years later in 2014 it was sold again, with the prospect of change of use to a hotel, for £65 million – a profit of £24 million in four years.

The facade of the building is relatively bland, however there is some interesting decoration on the side of the building facing the Edith Cavell monument. There are two vertical sets of, I am not sure what – artwork, carvings – one panel between each window, creating vertical columns of panels spaced between windows. See the photo at the top of the post for the location of these panels.

Close-up photos of these panels reveal some intriguing designs:

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

Seven St Martin's Place

I have no idea as to the origin of these panels, or what they are intended to represent.

The building is not listed, and strangely the planning decision document which details the conditions of planning approval does not make any mention of these panels.

The drawings in the planning document appear to include these panels, so hopefully they will remain.

I have really tried to make out what these panels mean, but cannot find any reference, or looking at them, see any recognisable form or pattern.

I did wonder if put together they would make a map. I have written about the building at 111 Strand, where a map of the area has been carved into the Portland Stone across the 1st to 5th floor of the building.

To see if they made a map, or if there was any other meaning when the panels are combined, I put them together in the same order as they appear on the building:

Seven St Martin's Place

It does look as if the panels are meant to be combined. There are features that run from one panel to the adjacent. There looks to be a boarder around combined panels. On the far right of the panels, there are vertical wavy lines running down all four panels – could this be the River Thames?

Despite looking at these panels for ages, rotating the photos, trying different combinations, I cannot see any meaning – perhaps there is none. If anyone knows what they mean and who created them, I would be really interested to know.

Although the focus of this week’s post was on the building, and what another hotel conversion means for London, I wanted to have a quick look at the history of the site.

The area demands a full post, so this is a brief look. The 1895 Ordnance Survey Map shows the area as it was around 125 years ago:

Seven St Martin's Place

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The street plan is much the same as today, but the block of land that is now occupied by Seven St Martin’s Place was St Martin’s Mews. The Vicarage remains to this day

What is interesting is that the location now occupied by the monument to Edith Cavell, also had a statue in 1895, however it must have been different as the Edith Cavell monument was unveiled in 1920.

On July 18th 1902 a rather impressive statue to General Gordon, mounted on a camel was unveiled in the same position:

Seven St Martin's Place

But this was seven years after the Ordnance Survey map – I could not find any reference to an earlier statue, but my research time was limited.

The London Metropolitan Archives Collage collection, as usual provided some views of the site prior to the construction of the building we see today.

This is the view of the building that occupied the site, note the entrance to the Mews. The photo is dated 1930 and I suspect are the same buildings that are shown on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map.

Seven St Martin's Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_523_A7058

In the above photo, the darker section on the right of the block is the vicarage. This part of the block remains to this day and it is the lighter section on the left that was demolished to be replaced by Seven St Martin’s Place.

The following photo is a 1958 view of the building. As the 1895 map indicates, it was a collection of different buildings with a central mews.

Seven St Martin's Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_523_58_2190

As the above photo is dated 1958, it was either demolished soon after, or the references to the current building on the site being a late 1950s office block are wrong, and it is perhaps early 1960s.

The view of the building from William IV Street today, shrouded in sheeting as part of the building work.

Seven St Martin's Place

Changes to London are gradual, and normally it is only the historically or culturally significant buildings that get publicity when their use is changed, or they are threatened, but there are also so many changes involving rather ordinary buildings from the last half of the 20th century.

Hotels and expensive residential buildings appear to be the main drivers of development, however there still appears to be an expectation for plenty of office space. The 2017 London Office Policy Review for the Greater London Authority projects that office employment across the greater London area will rise from 1.982 million in 2016 to 2.861 million in 2050, so office space will continue to be required in larger volumes to accommodate this workforce.

So with the 2050 projections for both office space and tourism numbers – London is set for a considerable amount of development over the coming decades, and we will continue to see change whilst walking the streets of London, although I am not sure how much trust I would put in future projections.

alondoninheritance.com

Fitzroy Square

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the J.Evans Dairy in Warren Street. After walking along Warren Street I headed south along Fitzroy Street to have a look at Fitzroy Square, one of the many squares and gardens built as London expanded north and west during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

It was the weekend, so was quiet during my visit, but it was strange walking from the traffic of the Euston Road, to a peaceful square and the sound of birdsong.

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square is south of Warren Street and Euston Road and to the west of Tottenham Court Road.

A large square with a central, circular garden. In the following map extract, Fitzroy Square can be seen in the centre (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square was developed by Charles Fitzroy, the 1st Baron Southampton in the 1790s, when the east and south sides of the square were built. The northern and western sides to the square were added between 1825 and 1835.

The amount of building in this part of London during the later half of the 18th century and early 19th century must have been considerable.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 still shows the area as rural, consisting of large fields, some roads and tracks across the fields.

The following extract from Rocque’s map shows the area. I have highlighted the approximate location of Fitzroy Square with the orange rectangle.

Fitzroy Square

Tottenham Court Road is the road towards the right side of the map, running from top to bottom. The cluster of buildings towards the top of Tottenham Court Road is where the future junction with Euston Road would be located.

The following photo is from where Fitzroy Street joins Fitzroy Square. The two built sides of the square (eastern on the left and southern in the distance), were the first parts of the square to be developed, both to designs by the Adams brothers however the southern side of the street was very badly damaged during the last war and has since been rebuilt.

Fitzroy Square

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage collection has a very similar view of the square to my photo above. The print below is dated 1800 and shows the square looking much the same as it does today, with the exception of the trees and plants in the central garden which originally appeared to be empty space.

Fitzroy Square

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_SP_02_122

Residents of city squares often wanted the central space kept free as there was concern about who could be hiding in the planting (worries about robbery and theft) , or that planting the central square would take away from the grandeur of the surrounding houses.

There is a newspaper report from October 1795 which states that “A new market for the sale of meat, vegetables &c. was on Saturday opened on Lord Southampton’s estate in the neighbourhood of Fitzroy Square”. Perhaps this is what the centre of the square was used for, however I would be surprised if such a market was allowed in the centre of the square as it would probably have had an impact on the perception of the square and the value of the properties.

Rather appropriately, the conservation body, the Georgian Group have their head office in one of the buildings along the eastern side of the square.

Horwood’s map of London from 1799 confirms that the southern and eastern sides of the square were developed first, with the northern and western sides developed later in the 19th century.

Fitzroy Square

Compare Horwood’s map of 1799 with Rocque’s map of 1746 and it shows how much building there had been in the 50 years between the two maps.

The street leading off Fitzroy Square from the south-east corner was Grafton Street, but is now Grafton Way, possibly renamed to avoid confusion with a Grafton Street that had already been built.

This is the northern side of Fitzroy Square, which was built between 1827 and 1828:

Fitzroy Square

There are a number of Blue Plaques across the square. On the building that houses the Mozambique High Commission, along the western side of the square, is a plaque recording that Robert Gascoyne Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury lived in the building. He was prime Minister for various periods between 1885 and 1902.

Fitzroy Square

Further along the western side of the square are two plaques on the same building that record George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf living in the building (although not at the same time).

Fitzroy Square

View across the square from the south-western corner. When the trees are in full leaf they will obscure the new towers that hover behind Fitzroy Square and it is possible to imagine the square as it would have looked soon after completion.

Fitzroy Square

The gardens in the centre of the square are privately owned, belonging to those who own the freehold of the buildings that surround the square. The gardens are occasionally open during the Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The sculpture in the gardens, to the right of the above photo is titled  ‘View’ and is by Naomi Blake. It was installed to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977

The southern edge of the square was badly damaged by wartime bombing and a high explosive bomb fell on the north-west corner.

As with many open spaces in London during the war, it was used for temporary water storage, to be used in the event of fires, as bombing frequently reduced the supply and pressure of water from the underground pipes. A strange and tragic death was recorded in the Daily Mirror on the 4th July 1942 highlighting the dangers of these water storage installations:

“Nap – It Led To His Death: Giving evidence at a St. Pancras inquest yesterday on Frank Edgar Husson, 51, of Stanhope-street, St. Pancras, who was drowned in an emergency water dam in Fitzroy-square, Dr. jean Mary White suggested that Husson might have fallen asleep while seated on a girder and slipped into the water.

It was stated that Husson, a builder’s labourer, walked across a girder, and as he had ten minutes before resuming work after lunch, he might have sat on a girder. No splash was heard. A verdict of accidental death was recorded.”

During the war, The Sunday Mirror had a regular feature where men in the services would write in regarding someone they briefly met, and wanted to meet again. The Sunday Mirror promised that “We print each letter in the hope that the girl will recognise herself and, if she cares to, will write. We have the full names and addresses of each man.”

Fitzroy Square featured in one letter on the 30th March 1941 from a Corporal R. Stephens of the Coldstream Guards:

“During a London blitz I was walking in Fitzroy-square when a bomb hit a nearby building, and my friend and I made for a rush for the wreckage where a number of girls were sheltering in a basement. By this time the A.R.P. men were well on the job, and all the girls, with the exception of two, were escorted to nearby houses for shelter.

The two left behind accompanied my friend and I to a public shelter, having to fling ourselves flat several times while bombs fell perilously close.

I admired those two girls for their bravery, and one in particular fascinated me so much that I felt that I did not want to leave her.

But I was obliged to leave, without even plucking up enough courage to make a date with her, as I had to be back in barracks at midnight.

I am hoping though, that she will recognise herself, and will write to me.”

It is this sort of human detail that I find fascinating – so many millions of individual stories of those who have been in London over the centuries. I wonder if Corporal R. Stephens ever did find the girl he met in Fitzroy Square?

The western terrace of houses, dating from 1832 to 1835:

Fitzroy Square

On the south side of the square are numbers 34 and 35. On the step in front of the identical door are the words “Swiss House”.

Fitzroy Square

The Swiss House was a “Home for Aged Swiss” opened in 1936 by the Swiss Benevolent Society. an organisation that dates back to 1703 and set-up to provide aid to Swiss residents of London. The society is still in operation today (but not in Fitzroy Square).

In the centre of the southern terrace are two red doors, with a plaque in the middle recording the architect of the southern and eastern sides – Robert Adam.

Fitzroy Square

At the weekend, Fitzroy Square is quiet. Walkers through the square generally seemed to be heading to another destination, however the view across to the north side of Fitzroy Square caught the attention of a number of people who decided to sit and admire the view:

Fitzroy Square

Looking across to the eastern side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The eastern terrace, along with the southern terrace, the first to be developed in the 1790s:

Fitzroy Square

One of the entrance doors in the eastern terrace, with some lovely detail in the fanlight:

Fitzroy Square

The photo below shows the south side of the square:

Fitzroy Square

The buildings at either end of the southern terrace were for a time occupied by medical institutions.

In 1929, the London Foot Hospital and School of Podiatric Medicine moved into number 33 Fitzroy Square (the building on the right of the terrace in the above photo), and in 1959, number 40 (the building on the left of the terrace), which had been the London Skin Hospital, also became part of the London Foot Hospital, where the hospital would stay until closure in 2003.

There is an interesting statue on the side of the building that was the London Foot Hospital:

Fitzroy Square

This is Francisco de Miranda:

Fitzroy Square

Francisco de Miranda was an interesting character. Born in Caracas, Venezuela on the 9th June 1756, he was originally an officer in the Spanish colonial armies, but seems to have been involved in almost any American (north and south) or European war in the later part of the 18th century and early 19th century.

He fought with the French during the American Revolutionary War, various battles across Europe for the French including the taking of Antwerp and at the siege of Maestricht, but was really interested in the independence of Venezuela, and his involvement with European Governments (apart from the Spanish) was with trying to gain support for this cause.

The reason for this statue on the corner of Fitzroy Square is that he had a number of stays in London, living for a time at 58 Grafton Way, which also joins Fitzroy Square at this corner.

There is a plaque adjacent to the statue which claims he lived here from 1802 to 1810, however from various other references this was not a continuous stay, and I am not sure if the period stated is correct.

His first visit to London appears to have been in the late 1780s when he was in London meeting Prime Minister William Pitt and looking for support against the Spanish in the independence of Venezuela.

Up until 1803 he had been in the Netherlands, before returning to France from where Napoleon expelled him in 1804 when he returned to London.

Along with his travelling the world and fighting battles, it also appears he was a bit of a philanderer. Whilst in London Miranda married Sarah Andrews, a Yorkshire farmers daughter. Sarah lived in London, caring for their two children whilst Miranda was away, so perhaps the period 1802 to 1810 refers to the time Sarah Andrews was in residence with Miranda making occasional returns to London.

1810 appears to be the year he left London for good as he returned to Venezuela to fight with the revolutionary forces and was briefly ruler, until being arrested by the Spanish in 1812. He was imprisoned in Cadiz until his death in 1816.

The base of the statue:

Fitzroy Square

There is a plaque commemorating his wife, Sarah Andrews, but not in London. In 1981 the Venezuelan Ambassador unveiled a plaque in her home village of Market Weighton in East Yorkshire. It would be interesting to know how a Venezuelan freedom fighter met a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter.

London has always been a place where those fighting revolutionary wars and independence for their home countries would seek temporary refuge. I have written about a couple of other examples, Giuseppe Mazzini in Laystall Street, and Sun Yat-sen in Gray’s Inn Place, and there are many more similar stories to be found all across London.

A final look back from the southern stretch of Fitzroy Street into Fitzroy Square:

Fitzroy Square

There is one significant difference between all the above photos and my usual photos of London streets – there are no cars.

The western, southern and eastern sides of the square are pedestrianised, with only the northern stretch of the square continuing as a traffic route. When you come across an area without any traffic, without parked cars lining the streets, it is very noticeable how much this improves the experience of walking through the city. Although there were few people walking through the square at the weekend, many of those who did would stop and look at the view, or sit for a while on the seats at the southern side of the square.

Obviously not practicable to extend this approach across large areas of London, but a bit more pedestrianisation really does improve London’s streets.

alondoninheritance.com

St Stephen Walbrook

I was in the City earlier this month and had a couple of free hours in the afternoon, so I headed to the church of St Stephen Walbrook, a church I have not been inside for a number of years.

The church is located just south of the Bank junction of Poultry, Princess Street, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill and King William Street. Located just behind the Mansion House, the church includes the name of one of the City’s lost rivers, and faces onto a street with the same name, Walbrook.

Walking down from the Bank junction, this is the view of the tower of St Stephen Walbrook:

St Stephen Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook has a long history, however the church is not on its original site.

The River Walbrook originally ran slightly to the west of the street, and it was on the western side of the River Walbrook that the first church was established. Foundations of the original church were found during excavation of the site that today is occupied by the offices of Bloomberg, also the original location of the Roman Temple to Mithras.

According to Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London, “Eudo, Steward of the Household to King Henry I (1100- 1135) gave the church of St Stephen, which stood on the west side of Walbrook, to the Monastery of St John at Colchester.”

The church probably dates from around the 11th century, but is probably older.

There is very little written evidence of this first church, however in the History of the Ward of Walbrook of the City of London (1904), J.G. White states:

“It possessed a Steeple with Bells and Belfry, as, from an inventory made, it appears that at the time of building the new Church, three bells, with their wheels, &c., were removed from the old building, and fixed in the new Steeple; also that it contained a belfry is evident from the fact that there is in the Coroner’s Roll for 1278 an entry, that on the 1st May in that year information was given that on the previous Sunday, about mid-day, William Clarke ascended the belfry to look for a pigeon’s nest, and in climbing from beam to beam he missed his hold and fell, dying as soon as he came to the ground. There was also a Chancel, there being in the year 1300 an Inquisition taken to enquire who was liable to repair the watercourse of the Walbrook over against the Chancel Wall of the Church.”

Around 1428, this original location of the church, and its associated graveyard was considered too small to support the parish, so a new location was required.

A plot of land was given by Robert Chicheley, a member of The Worshipful Company of Grocers, on the opposite side of Walbrook street, roughly 20 metres to the east of the original location, and the new church was built between 1429 and 1439.

This church would last just under 240 years as the church of St Stephen Walbrook would be one of those destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Rebuilding commenced in December 1672, with Wren as the architect. St Stephen Walbrook was probably his local church as at the time he was living in Walbrook.

It was a difficult location for the new church as houses were built up against the church, including the area around where the tower would be built.

The area north of the church, now the site of the Mansion House was originally occupied by a market in fish and flesh know as the Stocks Market. Part of the original design for completion of St Stephen Walbrook was a colonnaded replacement for the pre-fire Stocks Market, which would have extended north from the church, This did not get built.

The church was ready to use in 1679, although the tower appears to have been completed later.

The following print from Old and New London shows the church soon after completion. The print also highlights the houses that clustered immediately around the tower.

St Stephen Walbrook

The above drawing from Old and New London is dated 1700, however I suspect this is wrong. The drawing shows the spire on top of the tower, however the spire was not added until 1713-1715.

Remove the houses in front of the church, and as the following photo demonstrates, the appearance of the church is much the same today. It was not possible to replicate the above drawing as the Mansion House presses in to the left of the church, occupying the space that was the Stocks Market.

St Stephen Walbrook

The following extract from a 1720 Ward map shows the church of St Stephen Walbrook, with the Stocks Market occupying the land to the north.

St Stephen Walbrook

Time for a look inside the church. A set of steps rise up from street level to the interior of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of St Stephen Walbrook from the entrance:

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior has an unusual layout for a City church. The wooden reredos is at the far end of the church where the altar would traditionally have been located, however following restoration work carried out between 1978 and 1987, the traditional altar was replaced by a central circular altar carved from Travertine by Henry Moore.

St Stephen Walbrook

The new altar and additional restoration work throughout the church was commissioned and supported by the fund-raising efforts of Lord Peter Palumbo who was Churchwarden from 1953 to 2003.

Restoration work at the time was essential as the church was suffering from subsidence, possibly due to the long-term impact of the River Walbrook.

The location of the altar does prevent an ideal photograph of one of the main features of Wren’s designs – the large dome located above the central square of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Multiple references refer to the dome as being Wren’s practice for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, however whilst the overall shape is similar, a dome with lantern on top, the size and construction method is very different.

Whilst the dome of St Paul’s has the inner false dome, with the layer of supports between inner and outer dome to transfer the load of the large stone lantern through to the body of the cathedral, the dome of St Stephen is a much more straightforward construction, however that does not detract anything from the beauty of a magnificent dome, designed in the 17th century on a City parish church.

The following drawing from 1770 shows a view of the interior of the church, with below a cut away diagram of the dome’s construction and a floor plan of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of the church also shows another of Wren’s innovations. Rather than the weight of the dome being carried on a large pier at each corner, there are three slender columns at each corner. These have the effect of opening out the corners, rather than these spaces being occupied by a large load bearing pillar.

Note in the floor plan above that the tower is missing. The tower was added after the church had opened, and perhaps Wren’s idea was to have a rectangular church with no tower, where the dome rising above the church would have been the dominating feature.

When the exterior of the church is viewed today, the dome of the church is somewhat hidden to the rear with the tower dominating – perhaps not Wren’s original intention.

Whilst many writers praised St Stephen Walbrook as one of Wren’s best City churches, there were other views, for example in Curiosities of London (1867), John Timbs writes:

“This church, unquestionably elegant, has been overpraised. The rich dome is considered by John Carter to be Wren’s attempt to ‘set up a dome, a comparative imitation (though on a diminutive scale) of the Pantheon at Rome, and which, no doubt, was a kind of probationary trial previous to his gigantic operation of fixing one on his octangular superstructure in the centre of the new St Paul’s’. Mr J. Gwilt says of St Stephen’s ‘Compared with any other church of nearly the same magnitude, Italy cannot exhibit its equal, elsewhere its rival is not to be found. Of those worthy notice, the Zitelle at Venice (by Palladio), is the present approximation in regard to size, but it ranks far below our church in point of composition, and still lower in point of effect.’

Again, had its materials and volume been as durable and as extensive as those of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren had consummated (in St Stephen’s) a much more efficient monument to his well-earned fame than this fabric affords.”

The church suffered significant damage during the war. the following photo shows the interior of the church with parts of the dome collapsed onto the floor of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019488CL

A view of the damage to the dome can be seen in the following drawing by Dennis Flanders in June 1941.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/9354

Dennis Flanders was a freelance artists who recorded bomb damage to London. He sold some of his work to the War Artists Advisory Committee, including the drawing of St Stephen’s.

Another drawing purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee was the following by Ian Strang, dated 1945.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/25791

Note the temporary wooden cover in the place of the dome.

In the foreground are the foundations of the bombed buildings that occupied the space now occupied by the Bloomberg building. Excavation in the space during 1954 would reveal the Roman Temple of Mithras.

There is a wonderful model of the church to be seen inside the church:

St Stephen Walbrook

The model allows the overall design of the church to be appreciated, not easy when viewed from outside.

Looking at the model, the tower and buildings along the front of the church do look separate to the main body of the church (the smaller building to the right of the row on the front is a Starbucks).

Remove the tower and the buildings along the front and the church would be of rectangular design with a magnificent dome dominating the view of the church – perhaps Wren’s original intention.

The spire on top of the church is very similar to two other City churches, St Michael Paternoster Royal and St James Garlickhithe, which is shown in the following photo taken by my father in 1953.

St Stephen Walbrook

The spire was added to St Stephen Walbrook between 1713 and 1715, and the spires to the other two churches were added in the same period. They are possibly to a design by Hawksmoor.

Looking back towards the entrance to the church with a rather magnificent organ case above the door. This dates from 1765.

St Stephen Walbrook

There are a number of monuments on the walls of the church, including the following to Samuel Moyer dated 1716:

St Stephen Walbrook

Many of these tablets provide an insight into the dreadful child mortality rates of earlier centuries, even for those who were affluent.

The tablet states that Samuel Moyer was a Baronet. He must have had money as the tablet states the family spent the summer at their home at Pitsey Hall in Essex and the winters in the parish of St Stephen Walbrook.

A Baronet, who could afford homes in Essex and London still suffered numerous child deaths, Of their eleven children, eight died in their minority, with only three daughters surviving to “lament with their sorrowful mother, the great loss of so indulgent a father”.

It was not just the high rates of child mortality, but also what this level of child-birth did to women. The risks to women during childbirth were very high, and for Rebeckah Jollife, Moyer’s wife, surviving eleven must have been traumatic.

Also, with eleven births, for a significant period of her life, Rebeckah must have been in a state of almost continuous pregnancy.

St Stephen Walbrook also has a rather nice sword rest dating from 1710. This apparently came from the church of St Ethelburga.

St Stephen Walbrook

Back outside the church and this is the view of St Stephen Walbrook from the south.

St Stephen Walbrook

Today, a Starbuck’s occupies the corner space between tower and body of the church.

The dome of the church and lantern is just visible from the street.

The side view of the church shows the rough building materials used in the construction of the church – probably because other buildings were up against the side of the church so there was no need for expensive stone dressing to the side walls.
St Stephen Walbrook

Close up view of the dome and lantern:

St Stephen Walbrook

A longer view looking along Walbrook from the south. The Bloomberg building is on the left:

St Stephen Walbrook

This is such a fascinating area. In the above photo, the River Walbrook once ran roughly from where I am standing to take the photo, up and parallel to the existing street. The original church was on the left, prior to moving across the street and the river. The Roman Temple of Mithras is under the Bloomberg building on my left.

St Stephen Walbrook still dominates the northern part of the street, however if you walk along the street, look behind the tower and admire Wren’s dome.

alondoninheritance.com

The Goat Tavern, Stafford Street

Hardly a week goes by without news of another London pub closing. Business rates, sudden increases in rent, demographic changes, or just the land becoming more valuable through a one-off payment for redevelopment, all conspire to an ongoing reduction in the city’s pubs.

It was therefore with some relief that I found the subject of this week’s post still there, serving as a traditional pub, and on the day of my visit, doing rather well.

This is my father’s 1952 photo of The Goat Tavern in Stafford Street:

Goat Tavern

The same view in July 2019:

Goat Tavern

The distinctive feature of a goat still projects proudly from the front of the building. Shutters still flank the windows. I suspect that since 1952 the interior of the pub may have converted from separate Public and Saloon bars to a single bar, hence the change of the ground floor frontage to the street where the two original doors have been replaced by a single door.

The Goat Tavern is in Stafford Street, a street just north of Piccadilly. Stafford Street runs between Old Bond Street and Dover Street, crossing Albemarle Street. I have ringed Stafford Street in the following map extract  (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Goat Tavern

Stafford Street was built in 1686, part of London’s westerly expansion when a number of the old large private house and grounds lining Piccadilly were demolished to be replaced by the streets we see today.

Clarendon House and grounds originally occupied the space now occupied by Stafford Street, Albemarle and Dover Streets. Built in 1667 by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon who fled abroad soon after completion of the house. He had occupied senior positions at court and was influential in arranging Charles II marriage to Catherine of Braganza. He was blamed, probably unfairly, for a number of state problems, including the failure of Catherine to bear children.

He died in 1674, and the house and grounds were sold to Christopher Monk, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle in 1675. The property was sold again in 1683 to Sir Thomas Bond, who demolished the house, and Dover, Albemarle, Old Bond, Stafford and Grafton Streets were laid out (which gives an indication of the size of the property as it stretched all the way from Piccadilly to where the northern edge of Grafton Street is today).

The street is named after Margaret Stafford, one of Sir Thomas Bond’s partners in the development.

Albemarle Street is named after the 2nd Duke of Ablemarle, Old Bond Street after Sir Thomas Bond and Grafton Street after the 2nd Duke of Grafton who purchased part of the still undeveloped land at the north of the old Clarendon property and completed Grafton Street. Dover Street is named after Henry Jermyn, Baron Dover, also one of Sir Thomas Bond’s partners in the development.

Not one of the new streets laid out on the site of the original Clarendon House was named after either the house, or Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon. Although after his death his body was returned from France and buried in Westminster Abbey, his reputation must still have been tarnished which prevented his title or name being used to name any of the streets built on his former property.

The Goat Tavern dates from this original development as the first public house on the site dates from 1686, but I cannot find any references as to the origin of the name.

The London Encyclopedia states that the Goat Tavern was rebuilt in 1958, however looking at my father’s photo and the view of the Goat today, there does not appear to be much of a change, apart from the ground floor facade, and probably the interior of the pub, so this may be a reference to when the new facade was created, rather than to a rebuild of the building.

The ground floor facade of The Goat Tavern:

Goat Tavern

As with the majority of other London pubs, the Goat Tavern supported a number of functions, not just drinking. Clubs met at the pub, it was used for sales and auctions, and inquests into local deaths were all held in the Goat – a good example of why these establishments were called Public Houses.

Rather strangely for a pub in this location, the Goat Tavern seems to have had a naval connection. The pub’s entry in “The London Encyclopedia” states that Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton met here.

The pub was also a meeting place and unofficial club for naval officers. Meeting at the pub was banned during the 1st World War as the authorities were concerned that naval officers meeting in a London pub would divulge operational details, putting ships and sailors at risk of enemy action. There is a reference to this in The Bystander on the 7th April 1937:

“The coming-of-age dinner of the Goat Club the other night, with Admiral of the Fleet Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt as guest of honour, must evoke for large numbers of chaps the agreeably eighteenth century air of romance surrounding the Goat Club’s foundation. Most people know how, in 1915, when the Admiralty prohibited naval officers in uniform from visiting licensed premises, the lady of the Goat Tavern in Stafford Street, Piccadilly, known to all and admired by every ward and gun room in the entire Navy as ‘Bobby’, wrote to Their Lordships asking if she mightn’t form a club to keep ‘my huge family’ together; how Their Lordships gracefully bowed to the lady’s wishes; and how the Goat Club started in Regent Street, to the great content of 2000 officers of H.M. ships of war and, undoubtedly, to the great vexing of an almost equal number of enemy spies.”

Remarkable to imagine that this pub, tucked away north of Piccadilly, was once known throughout the navy, with officers meeting in the pub and enemy spies trying to discover naval secrets from drunken sailors.

An event in 1822 provides an indication of how those employed as servants were treated, from an advert in the Morning Advertiser on the 9th May 1822:

” FIVE POUNDS Reward – LEFT, about Four o’clock this afternoon in the tap-room of the Goat, Stafford Street by a servant, who will have to make the amount good, a SMALL PARCEL, containing eight Table-spoons, and twelve ditto Desert ditto, cypher E.B. Whoever has found and will bring the same to Mr. Lilford, at the bar of the said house, shall receive the above reward.”

I bet the five pounds reward was also deducted from the servants pay if the missing items were returned.

In the 1952 photo, the pub only had the statue of a goat on the front of the building. In 2019, the pub has both a statue of a goat and also a pub sign.

Goat Tavern

The following is an extract from my father’s 1952 photo. The goat is a different model to the one we see today, and the platform on which the goat stands states that the pub had been licensed for over 100 years.

Goat Tavern

Stafford Street is a relatively short street of around 105 metres, however according to the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, there were 3 pubs in Stafford Street at the end of the 19th century (I have a theory which I have not had the time to either prove or disprove that the decades either side of the year 1900 were London’s “peak pub” period).

I walked along Stafford Street to see if the other two pubs were still in existence.

On the corner of Stafford Street and Ablemarle Street is The King’s Head in a rather nice 19th century building.

Goat Tavern

The next pub should have been on the corner of Stafford Street and Dover Street, however the ground floor is now occupied by a shop.

Goat Tavern

This was the Duke of Ablemarle pub, a pub that appears to be from the original building of the streets, however closed in 2006.

The LMA Collage archive has a photo of the Duke of Ablemarle as it appeared in 1944:

Goat Tavern

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0963_F2333

If you look above the shop today, the black panel that extends along the length of both sides of the building has the pub name, the year 1686 as the year the pub was established, along with other typical pub wording.

Goat Tavern

The style and state of this writing gives the impression that this is of some age, however looking at the photo of the pub in 1944, the pub has the black panel extending along both sides with the pub name in large letters, however I cannot see the writing that appears today.

It had either been covered in the 1944 photo, or had been added after 1944 – I suspect the later.

The ground floor of the old Duke of Ablemarle in Dover Street.

Goat Tavern

Given how fast pubs have been disappearing in central London, two out of three remaining in a relatively short street is a good result.

None of the original buildings from the 17th century development of Stafford Street remain, although looking at the building that was the Duke of Ablemarle pub, I would not be surprised if there was part of the original corner building remaining in the existing structure.

The majority of the buildings look to be 20th century, although the King’s Head pub is 19th century.

There is a variety of architectural styles and use of materials in the buildings that line the street today. Some having some rather nice features, often hard to see.

On the corner of Stafford Street and Old Bond Street is Swan House.

Goat Tavern

The ground floor is currently a Saint Laurent shop, but along Stafford Street is a rather nice building name:

Goat Tavern

And if you peer at the top of the building, there are some not easy to see features:

Goat Tavern

Further down is Stafford House:

Goat Tavern

Stafford House gives the impression that one architect has designed the ground and first floors, then a second architect has completed the second and third floors to a completely different design.

The Goat Tavern is a lovely pub with a fascinating history. I hope the Goat continues to stand proudly overlooking Stafford Street for many years to come.

alondoninheritance.com

St Katharine’s Way and Ship Fires on the Thames

The primary aim of the blog is to track down all the locations of the photos that my father took of London. With a number of the photos he had identified the location, either written on the photo if printed, or later labeling some of the negatives. Many had no identification so I have been tracking these down based on the scene in the photo.

I thought the subject of last week’s post was easy as it had been labelled Thomas More Street, however despite walking up and down the street a couple of times, I could not identify the location. The street had the high brick walls, but I could not find the curve on the street.

Fortunately, the expertise of readers came to help with the identification of the correct location. It was not Thomas More Street, but nearby in St Katharine’s Way, so before turning to the subject of this week’s post, I need to provide an update on last week’s post (I will be re-writing the post, but wanted to get this update out).

This is the photo from last week’s post:

Ship Fires on the Thames

Andy Murphy commented on the post to identify the correct location and also provided a link to the following photo from the Britain from Above website:

Ship Fires on the Thames

The twin docks that are St Katharine Docks can be seen in the lower right of the photo. There is a single entrance to the dock from the River Thames, and a bridge can see seen over the dock entrance.

This is a swing bridge, and it was just to the east of the swing bridge that my father was standing when he took the photo looking east.

I have enlarged the specific part of the above photo to show the area in my father’s photo:

Ship Fires on the Thames

In the above photo it is just possible to see the wall along the northern edge of the street, the curve of the street which would be seen when standing in the straight entrance to the swing bridge, and the main building, the large warehouse in my father’s photo can be seen along the northern edge of the street.

Malcolm used the OS maps to identify the location, and the following map extract shows the location:

Ship Fires on the Thames

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The area today is very different and the swing bridge has disappeared. In the following map showing the same area as it is today, I have marked the location of the swing bridge and the large warehouse  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Ship Fires on the Thames

Annie mentioned in a comment that she thought she could see one of the features in my father’s photo in photos of the site today.

I wanted to take another look, but work was too busy in the week, leaving yesterday, the hottest day of the year so far, as an opportunity to investigate further.

This is the main entrance to the St Katharine Dock from the River Thames today.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The footbridge and swing bridge in the photo are part of the redevelopment of St Katharine Dock, if you look back at the maps earlier in the post, you can see that the original swing bridge was a short distance along from the footbridge, further in towards the docks.

Comparing the two maps and using the overlay feature on the National Library of Scotland site, the swing bridge crossed the dock entrance, then the road curved to the left, behind what is now the Marina office. This is the view looking across the dock entrance today from roughly where the swing bridge would have been on the western side.

Ship Fires on the Thames

In the above photo, the marina office is the building on the left. To the immediate right of the marina office is a set of steps and a high brick wall.

Crossing over, I took a look at the steps and the wall.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The wall on the right is modern, but the wall on the left looks to be one of the original dock walls. There are bricked up features in the wall and the brickwork is rough and aged. Very similar to the dock walls in Thomas More Street.

This is the view along the footpath alongside the wall.

Ship Fires on the Thames

For some reason, the footpath is raised, with steps at both ends of the footpath, so the walls would originally have been much higher. No idea why the footpath has been raised.

At the end of the footpath, this is the view looking along St Katharine’s Way. The large building on the left is occupying the space where the large warehouse was in my father’s photo (see the maps for details).

Ship Fires on the Thames

My suspicion was that the wall that runs along the footpath, to the rear of the marina office, could be the wall in my father’s photo on the left of the street, towards the warehouse.

I was checking the wall for features, probably to the amusement of those also walking along the footpath.

This may be me seeing things that are not there – wanting to find evidence where there is none. I will leave it to you to judge.

On the wall on the left of my father’s photo is a triangular feature. The wall today is in shade, rather than the bright sunshine of my father’s photo, but there also appears to be a triangular outline in the brick wall today, in roughly the right place along the wall.

I have taken extracts from photos earlier in the post and marked this feature – not easy to see in the 2019 photo.

Ship Fires on the Thames

This area has changed very dramatically in the 70 years since my father took the original photo, and it may be that I am seeing things which are not there, wanting to find something remaining today from the 1949 photo, but it does look right.

I have no idea why my father wrongly labelled the street. This is only the second example I have found in five years of the blog. The other photo that was wrongly labelled was Bevington Street in Bermondsey. I suspect the reason why these photos were wrongly labeled is that he would develop the film some weeks after taking the photos and finishing a role of film, and this gap after walking multiple London streets resulted in an error, or forgetting exactly the location of the developed photo.

The other question from last week’s post was the uniform of the man walking along the street. It is now clear that he was walking towards St Katharine Dock, so perhaps he was walking towards the start of work. There were a number of suggestions as to the uniform and cap badge, but the lack of detail in the photo could not help with a firm identification.

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post – your feedback helps make writing these posts so enjoyable. So now to the subject of this week’s post.

Barge and Ship Fires on the Thames

My father took the following photo from Bankside looking across to the north bank of the Thames, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.

To the right, there is a fire on a ship with black smoke partly obscuring the scene.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The same scene today:

Ship Fires on the Thames

The scene is both much the same, and very different.

St Paul’s Cathedral is still the dominating feature, and it is good to see that the height of buildings between the cathedral and the river are much the same, so the view of the cathedral is very similar.

On the river front, the only building that is the same in both photos is the warehouse on the right.

The Millennium Bridge on the left is the main new feature at river level.

Looking at the photo, I wonder if the reason my father took the photo was perhaps the fire.

Shipping on the River Thames carried a considerable variety of goods and materials, many of which were highly inflammable. This, along with a lack of regulations around safety and fire prevention, how goods should be carried, the fire needed to raise steam in steamships and the sheer volume of traffic on the river probably resulted in many such examples.

To investigate further, I had a look through newspaper reports to understand how frequent these were, and the types of goods that were at risk.

31st March 1845 – A Ship On Fire In The Thames

Yesterday afternoon information was received at several engine stations that a fire was burning on board the brig Betsy, Captain J. Rich of Penryn, lying off King Edward Stairs, opposite Rotherhithe. For sometime the greatest fears were entertained that the whole vessel would fall sacrifice to the fury of the flames, which were then burning brightly and fiercely in the after cabin. The floating engine, manned by one hundred men, was got to work, and a vast body of water poured into the cabin. At length the flames were subdued, and all danger of their further extension at an end, but not before the after cabin and its contents were nearly consumed. The fire from the cabin stove, from some cause which is unexplained, is said to have caused the disaster. The vessel, which is the property of Capt. Tranery, of Penryn, is said not to be insured.

23rd March 1877 A Barge Fire On The Thames

A barge laden with straw, caught fire on the Thames, near Blackfriars, on Monday. The barge was speedily got away from a number of others, and removed to mid-stream, where the fire floats played upon her until the fire was extinguished.

12th September 1871 Petroleum Barge on Fire In The Thames

The barge City of Rochester, belonging to Mr Burkett, of Greenwich, laden with petroleum, while lying in the upper part of Halfway Reach, London, on Saturday morning, took fire, and was burned to the water’s edge. the barge had received the petroleum from two vessels, the Harmony and Ennis, discharging at the petroleum buoys, near Erith.

15th February 1899 (a single paragraph in among other news items)

A barge took fire in the Thames this morning, and of her crew of three men, one was burned to a cinder, and the others were so severely injured that they are not likely to recover.

3rd January 1902 – A Smallpox Ship On Fire In The Thames

A fire broke out last evening on board the Endymion, a smallpox hospital ship, in the Thames, near Dartford. The vessel is one of three ships moored together, and used for acute cases. The Metropolitan Fore Brigade were apprised by telephone, and immediately sent down the Alpha fire float, which was moored at Blackfriars Bridge. The fire brigade authorities were later informed that the outbreak occurred in the stokehold of the Endymion.

The fire was overcome this morning, having smouldered all night in the stokehold, At the time of the outbreak, a number of nurses and attendants were on board, but no smallpox patients. There was no panic, neither was any personal injury sustained.

I had no idea that there were smallpox hospital ships on the River Thames. I found the following drawing of these ships (or rather hulks as in the drawing) in the Wellcome Collection.

The ships were the Atlas and Endymion (the subject of the above news report) at Deptford Creek.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Ships used as smallpox isolation hospitals. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

17th September 1906 – Blaze Near London Bridge

Early on Saturday morning a vessel, the Balgownie, belonging to the General Steam navigation Company, was found to be on fire at her berth in the Thames. Carrying a general cargo, the ship came up the Thames on Friday night’s tide, and was berthed near London Bridge, it being intended to unload her on Saturday morning. When the alarm was raised two L.C.C fire floats, Alpha and Beta, were summoned and were quickly on the scene. A number of fire-engines from stations near by were also called.

The vessel was lying just off Hay’s wharf, near Tooley-street. A number of other vessels were near by, and there was some danger that the fire would spread to these ships. The brigade quickly got to work under the command of Captain Hamilton, and a very strong force of water was pumped into the burning vessel’s hold. The smoke and flames had in the meantime created considerable excitement amongst early morning frequenters of the river and bridge, and large crowds watched the operations of the firemen. 

After two or three hours work the fire was subdued, although the firemen had been working under considerable difficulty through not being able for a time to get at the seat of the outbreak. After the flames had been put out the fire-boats and the engines from the shore remained in attendance, the floats directing their attention to pumping out water from the hold.

14th September 1910 – Barge Fire On The Thames

The East-end firemen were called last night to a vessel alight on the Thames, and found that the Dutch barge Alberdina, of 200 tons burden, was on fire alongside Foster’s Wharf, in Stanley-road, North Woolwich. The fire had broken out in the main hold, and was just attacking the deck when appliances were set to work and the fire overcome.

24th March 1911 – Ship On Fire In The Thames

The steamer “North Point” was bound for Philadelphia, and discovered on fire shortly after leaving the dock. The crew, which numbered forty, were aroused by the captain, and all saved by tugs. Five sailors, unable to join their comrades, owing to the heat of the decks, lowered themselves by ropes over the side of the vessel, and were then rescued. The vessel in a short time was a floating furnace, the iron plates on her sides being red-hot to the water’s edge. Eventually the “North Point” was beached. 

24th April 1912 – Ship On Fire In The Thames

London bridge was crowded by sightseers on Saturday evening owing to the fact that a fire had broken out on the steamship Prince Albert, lying off Nicholson’s Wharf, Lower Thames-street. The alarm was given at half-past five, and the brigade authorities ordered out ten motor pumps and steamers and two powerful river floats. The vessel, of 3,000 tons burthen, is owned by the Ocean Belgian Steam Navigation Company of Antwerp, and had recently arrived from Italy with a general cargo, which included sulphur, hemp, and green fruit. Owing to the fumes of the sulphur, a number of smoke helmets had to be used by the firemen, who were engaged for several hours before the outbreak was suppressed, this being accomplished by the flooding of No. 2 hold. The work was very difficult, as the firemen could not remain for any length of time at close quarters, and they were relieved at short intervals by fresh relays. Beyond the damage to the one hold, the vessel received comparatively slight injury.

16th December 1919 – Explosives On Board, Three Barges On Fire In Thames Dock

A serious fire broke out this morning in three barges laden with explosives lying in the Thames off Dagenham Docks. Explosions followed, which prevented the local fire engines coming close to the barges. Fire floats and fire engines subsequently got to work, but up to noon had made no impression and there were further minor explosions.

Efforts were made to sink the barges before they blew up, and the fireman worked under dangerous conditions to themselves. It was not believed that the property on shore would be in much danger if the barges ultimately blew up. So far there have been no casualties.

16th November 1921 – Ship Fire On The Thames, Unusual Spectacle For City Workers

Thousands of people on their way to the City this morning witnessed a fire on board a large steamer lying in the Thames near London Bridge on the north side of the river, at Fresh Wharf.

The vessel, the S.S. Kingestroom, of 796 tons gross register, carried a general cargo, including rum and paper. River floats pumped large volumes of water into the affected parts of the ship, and within about three-quarters of an hour the outbreak was mastered.

The main seat of the fire was among some rum barrels. These blazed fiercely, giving off a pungent odour. Then some full barrels became involved, and, these bursting, the contents ran over the decks. At midday hundreds of gallons of rum and water were being pumped from the ship.

19th September 1925 – Its Own Extinguisher

A barge caught fire in the Thames, and though fire floats were soon on the spot, the outbreak was extinguished by the barge sinking.

The above is just a very small sample of news reports of fires on board barges and ships on the River Thames – all the way from central London, out along the river to the estuary.

The river was a dangerous place.

It is perhaps surprising from a 21st century viewpoint that a ship carrying a mix of sulphur, hemp, and green fruit would berth in the heart of the City. The impact of burning sulphur must have been terrible, however this was normal for the time, when the same ship would carry a wide range of goods and materials and there were very few restrictions on where such ships could berth.

Fire boats or fire floats were a key weapon in the fire brigades arsenal of tools to fight fires on the river, and also fire onshore, from the river.

The following photo from 1910 is of the fire float ‘Beta III’.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0487_2358C

These boats were equipped with powerful pumps drawing water directly from the river and able to direct powerful jets of water towards a fire.

A couple of years ago I was on board the fire boat Massey Shaw and saw an early fire boat in action. I wrote about the day (with video) in this blog post. The following is a view of the Massey Shaw pumping water.

Ship Fires on the Thames

The London Fire Brigade still has two fire boats available, and these new boats are far more sophisticated than earlier boats. They are able to change the way in which water is pumped towards a fire, from a powerful directed jet of water, to a dense mist of water.

When I was on the Massey Shaw, we were joined by one of the current fire boats, the Fire Dart.

Ship Fires on the Thames

Both pumping water was an impressive sight, and it was possible to imagine how ship fires would have been fought on the river, when it was full of goods traffic,

Sorry, that was a bit of a long read.

The feedback to last week’s post was so informative that I had to revisit and investigate further and I wanted to write a new post.

Just shows how much there is to discover about this fascinating city.

alondoninheritance.com

Sunday Morning in Thomas More Street

On a Sunday morning in June 1949, my father photographed a solitary man walking along the middle of Thomas More Street. This is a street in the middle of the London Docks, as can be seen by the surrounding warehouses.

Thomas More Street

Fortunately, this photo is one of those that my father labelled, as without that guidance I would not have been able to find the location as there are no features to identify the exact street.

The man is in uniform. I have looked at the original high definition scan of the negative, but cannot see any details that would indicate his job. He is walking towards the river, he may be about to start work, or possibly walking home after ending a night shift.

Thomas More Street

The badge on the hat would almost certainly indicate his role, but it is to indistinct on a 70 year old film negative.

Thomas More Street is to the immediate east of St Katherine Docks. The street runs from East Smithfield down to the junction with St Katherine’s Way and Wapping High Street.

The following map shows Thomas More Street running vertically down the map, just to the right of centre  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) :

Thomas More Street

The name Thomas More Street is a relatively recent change, made at some point between 1895 and 1940 (it had the current name in the 1940 Bartholomew London Atlas). The street is named after Sir Thomas More, who was executed nearby on Tower Hill on the 6 July 1535. The original name was Nightingale Lane, a rather rural sounding name for a street in this location.

I cannot find any reference as to why the street name changed.

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map shows the street with the name Nightingale Lane:

Thomas More Street

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The name might imply a reference to the bird of the same name being heard in the distant past in this part of east London, however there is possibly a very old source of the name. Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London states that the earliest mention is by Stow in 1598 as Nightingale Lane. The street formed the eastern boundary of Portsoken Ward. Harben also quotes a publication by the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society on the Anglo Saxon settlement around London, where there is a suggestion that the name may be a corrupted survival of Knightengild.

This source of the name is also mentioned in “The Streets of London” by Gertrude Burford Rawlings  which states: “Nightingale Lane E.1. A corruption of Cnihtena Guild or Knightenguild. This was an ancient London Guild established, as some think, in the time of King Edgar. In the reign of Henry I it was merged in the Priory of Holy Trinity, then newly founded at Aldgate. Its ‘soke’ is represented today by Portsoken ward.”

The 1895 map shows how the street ran between two large docks, St Katherine Docks to the west and London Docks to the east. The map also shows the street lined by warehouses serving the two docks, which is confirmed by my father’s photo as being much the same in 1949.

In John Rocque’s map from 1746, the street (just to the right of centre of the map below) is called Nightingal Lane. The ‘E’ on the end is missing. Assuming this is not just an error in the map, it does add credibility to the origin of the name referenced by Harben and Rawlings.

Thomas More Street

Rocque’s map shows how much this area would change with nearly everything in 1746 obliterated by the St Katherine and London Docks and their associated infrastructure, but Nightingal(e) Lane survives today at Thomas More Street.

I tried to find the location of my father’s photo, but whilst many of the old dock walls remain, the warehouses have long since disappeared, and I suspect entrances through the walls have changed to accommodate the recent building.

Starting at the junction of Thomas More Street with East Smithfield, this is the original entrance to the Western Dock of the London Docks. The 1895 OS map shows this well.

Thomas More Street

The view looking south along Thomas More Street from the junction. The high brick walls remain and give a good impression of how tall and solid these walls were. Theft from the docks and their warehouses was always a major problem and the dock owners built these walls to surround their docks to try to manage access through a limited number of controlled entrances.

Thomas More Street

A couple of lengths of Thomas More Street did have the S shaped curve shown in my father’s photo, but I could not match up the walls at any of the locations.

Thomas More Street

There has been considerable building over the area once occupied by the warehouses that lined Thomas More Street, alongside the London Docks.

Thomas More Street

The different brick colours in the walls around the entrance show some probable rebuilding, so it is not always clear whether the entrances we see today are original, or later changes to the wall.

The development alongside Thomas More Street is named Moretown – an example of a trend seen across many parts of London where new names are given to an area to try to build a new identity – or in developer speak ‘place making’.

The wall continues alongside Thomas More Street:

Thomas More Street

Another entrance:

Thomas More Street

Looking back up Thomas More Street, the curve is going in the wrong direction to my father’s photo.

Thomas More Street

The buildings between Thomas More Street and the site of the London Docks are of steel and glass, whilst those between the street and St Katherine Docks are of brick. A couple of gaps in the building on the western edge of the street show the docks behind.

Thomas More Street

A Waitrose now serves the residents of the area, showing how much the area has changed.

Thomas More Street

Looking back along Thomas More Street showing the height of the walls.

Thomas More Street

At the junction of Thomas More Street and Stockholm Way. Thomas More Street continues to the right, as do the walls, which once had the warehouses of the London Docks behind them.

Thomas More Street

When walking these streets, the continuation of Thomas More Street look strange, as the northern section ends at Stockholm Way, which looks as if it should continue on, however Thomas More Street than continues at a 90 degree bend to the northern section.

This makes sense when looking at the 1895 OS map as Stockholm Way did not exist when the area it now runs through was covered by the London Docks.

The following photo is looking back along Thomas More Street, at the southern end of the street at the junction with St Katherine Way. On the right is an entrance to Hermitage Basin shown on the 1895 OS map.

Thomas More Street

The final street sign:

Thomas More Street

If you look at the 1895 OS map, to the west of the southern end of Thomas More Street was the Red Lion Brewery.

This was owned by the brewers Hoare & Co. but had a very long history as a brewery, possibly dating back to the 15th century. Sir John Parson’s (who gave his name to Alderman’s stairs, see last week’s post) had a brew house here in 1746 as shown in the extract from John Rocque’s map.

The brewery was closed in 1934. The end of the business was widely reported as the end of an industry that had been in operation on the site for over 500 years.

The West London Observer reported on the 15th June 1934:

“The ‘King’s Brew House’ is about to be closed after being used continuously for brewing throughout the last 500 years. The brew house is part of the buildings which form part of the Red Lion brewery, the oldest, and probably the third largest brewery in London. The whole of these buildings will be closed on June 23rd.

The ‘King’s brew house’ is so called because it supplied the beer for the English and French courts in the 17th and 18th centuries, it is believed to be the only brew house in Britain to have had a monopoly on the beer supply to the old French courts. The privilege was obtained in a romantic way by Humphrey Parsons, an 18th century brewer, who was twice Lord Mayor of London, and the manufacturer of the liquor christened by Oliver Goldsmith ‘black champagne’.

Parsons was hunting near Paris with Louis XV, and being well-mounted outstripped the rest of the party and was first in at the death. This was contrary to Court etiquette, and when the King asked the name of the hard riding stranger, he was indignantly told that he was ‘un chavalier de malte’.

The King summoned Parsons and asked the price of his horse. He replied that the horse was beyond any price other than his Majesty’s acceptance.

The horse was delivered to the King and from that time, the ‘Chevalier’ Parsons had the exclusive right to supply the French court with beer.”

There is no sign of the brewery today, after being in operation for 500 years and supplying the English and French Courts with beer.

The St Katherine’s Estate was built on the location of the brewery, and the estate now occupies the land between Thomas More Street and St Katherine’s Way, across the road from Alderman Stairs.

The entrance to the St Katherine’s Estate from St Katherine’s Way:

Thomas More Street

The estate was one of the many built by the London County Council, and above the main entrance arch is a rather lovely reminder:

Thomas More Street

The old walls that defended the warehouses and docks are Grade II listed, so hopefully are protected to provide a reminder of the industry and business that operated in the area for so many years.

It was frustrating that I could not find the location in Thomas More Street of my father’s photo, however I do love the original photo, it is so evocative of another London which has disappeared for forever.

alondoninheritance.com

Life and Death at Alderman Stairs

Before exploring Alderman Stairs, a quick thanks for all the feedback to last week’s post regarding the statue in Catherine Place – I will be updating the post with some of the additional information and possibilities as to the meaning of the statue.

I was recently walking along St. Katherine’s Way, heading towards Thomas More Street to find the location of one of my father’s photo. I walked by Alderman Stairs, and as the tide was out, as I have many times before, I walked down to the foreshore.

I find the river stairs that remain fascinating. They provide a connection between the land and the river, and are a reminder of when the river was a bustling place of trade and passenger transport.

Today, they are frequently quiet. I very rarely see anyone else on the foreshore at Alderman Stairs.

It is interesting to imagine everything that has happened over the centuries, centered around these stairs – all the people who have arrived or departed, everything that has happened in the Thames adjacent to the stairs.

I thought it would be interesting to research back through newspaper articles for references to Alderman Stairs, and use these to tell the story of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs are along St. Katherine’s Way, just east of what were St. Katherine Docks. I have marked the location of the stairs with a red oval in the following map  (© OpenStreetMap contributors) :

Alderman Stairs

The stairs are old. Henry Harben in A Dictionary of London states that the first mention of the stairs was by John Rocque in 1746. The stairs had a number of names, including Alderman Stairs, Alderman Parsons Stairs and Lady Parson’s Stairs.

The name possibly derives from a former owner, Sir John Parsons who was an Alderman of Portsoken Ward in 1687. There are also references to Humphrey Parsons, Alderman between 1721 and 1741, and Sir John Parsons, Fishmonger described as the son of Parsons of St. Katherine’s.

Although I have seen references to Alderman Parsons Stairs in newspaper reports, the majority of references are just to Alderman Stairs, so over time the name was probably abbreviated down to the form we see today.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Alderman Parsons’s Stairs leading down into the river from what looks to be Catherine Street, with Parsons’s Brew House across the street.

Alderman Stairs

Catherine Street is today St. Katherine’s Way, but between these two names it was also called Lower East Smithfield (see the 1895 OS extract later in the post).

Walking between the two high buildings on either side, through to Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Alderman Stairs is just a single place in the whole of London, and based on my visits, the stairs and foreshore do not receive many other visitors, however exploring what happened here can tell us so much about life in London and life on the River Thames.

So here is a sample of Life and Death at Alderman Stairs.

The river has always been a dangerous place, but the sheer number of deaths in and along the river and the apparent casual acceptance in the way these are reported is remarkable from a 21st century viewpoint.

The Illustrated London News on the 7th June 1851 reports on one single day on the River Thames, including Alderman Stairs:

“FATAL RIVER ACCIDENTS – On Tuesday, Captain Artus, of the brig Melbourne, lying in Bugsby’s Hole, in attempting to ascend the side, missed his hold, fell into the water, and was drowned. Almost at the same time, (twelve o’clock), Captain Downie, of the ship mentor, lying off Stone-stairs, Wapping, fell overboard and perished. About 3 o’clock, P.M. a boat, containing two men and a woman, was swamped near Alderman Stairs; the men were saved, but the female, Mrs Coghlan, residing in Old Gravel-lane, was drowned.”

That is three deaths in one single day.

On the 5th November 1842:

“FATAL ACCIDENT – Tuesday night, a few minutes before twelve, John Dunlevy, cook on board the steam-packet City of Limerick, lying off the Alderman’s-stairs, Lower East Smithfield, while proceeding on board the steamer, and having just effected a landing on the accommodation ladder, fell into the river, and was carried away by the strong flood tide at the time, and was drowned. He was partially intoxicated. the body has not been found.”

On the 10th September 1842:

“On Saturday morning a large sailing barge, navigated by two men and a boy, while coming up the river, was sunk by the heavy swell caused by several vessels going down the river at full speed. She went down nearly opposite the St. Katherine Dock entrance. The people in her were saved by the watermen, who rowed from Alderman’s Stairs to their assistance. The barge was laden with 70 tons of coal. The damage sustained is estimated at £300.”

A report in the Illustrated Police News dated the 10th October 1903 highlights the risks that waterman working from Alderman Stairs endured when crossing the river:

“NEARLY DROWNED – AN EXCITING SCENE ON THE THAMES. At the Southwark County Court his Honour Judge Addison and a jury heard an action in which Henry George Wilson, an aged waterman, sought to recover damages from Arthur Gamman, of Holborn Wharf, Chatham, for personal injuries sustained.

Plaintiff said that on April 17 he was rowing his boat across from Alderman Stairs to Mills Stairs, Bermondsey, when he saw a steam hoy nearly on top of him. Without a word of warning from those on board she came on, and catching his boat amidships, smashed her to pieces, going right over the wreckage. He went under her and was much scratched and bruised. On rising to the surface almost exhausted he heard a cry of ‘Strike out Harry, there’s a boat coming’. Being a cold day he was heavily clad and sinking when somebody clutched him, and he eventually found himself being brought round on a ship.

Mr Thompson said it was only fair to the captain of the hoy to say that when he saw what had happened he very gallantly jumped overboard in his full rig and secured Wilson just as he was going down. 

Charles Wady, the captain, said he signaled to Wilson to stop rowing. He did so, but started again, and witness could not stop in time to avoid the boat. When he saw Wilson go under the hoy he stopped the screw, which was reversing, fearing that he would be cut up. 

His Honour warmly complimented Wady on his plucky behaviour.

The jury found in favour of the plaintiff, awarding him £25, for which amount and costs judgement was entered.”

I took the following photo from the top of Alderman Stairs, looking down to the river. Fortunately the tide was out.

Alderman Stairs

In the introduction to the post, I mentioned that the stairs were also called Lady Parsons’s Stairs. The use of the Parsons name in the name of the stairs is mainly concentrated in the first half of the 19th century and earlier. A typical example is from this report in the Morning Chronicle of the 12th February 1818:

“Yesterday morning the body of a young woman, apparently about 21 years of age, was found by a waterman, who was rowing near Lady Parsons stairs, in the river Thames, lying in the mud near the stairs.”

Another reference to Parsons’s Stairs records one of the very many tragic stories of those found in the river. From the London Courier and Evening Gazette on the 1st August 1801:

“Thursday night, about eight o’clock, was found floating in the Thames, at Parsons’s stairs, the body of a young woman, and brought to Aldgate Workhouse, Nightingale-lane. She was decently dressed in a cotton gown, brown ground, with white running sprig and leaf, modern pattern; a cambric sprig-netted shawl; had only one pocket on, in which there was nothing but one glove and tie, and a white pocket handkerchief. She appears to have been drowned upwards of a week, and appears to be about 20 or 30 years of age.”

The Parsons name also comes up in a reference to a possible bridge across the Thames before Tower Bridge was built. The Morning Advertiser of the 30th March 1824 listed petitions being presented at the House of Commons. One of these was:

“Mr T. Wilson presented Petitions from Watermen of St. Katherine’s Stairs, Old Parson’s Stairs, and the Tower Stairs, against the St. Katherine’s Suspension Bridge Bill.”

The St. Katherine’s Suspension bridge was a proposal for a bridge to improve access between St Katherine’s Dock and the proposed South London Docks. There were many objections to the bridge, including from the City of London. The bridge was not built.

There has always been immigration into London and on the 24th April 1847, the Illustrated London News reported on arrivals at Alderman Stairs:

” IRISH IMMIGRATION INTO LONDON – The importation of Irish paupers, so much complained of in Liverpool and Glasgow, begins to wear a threatening aspect in London. On Sunday, the Prussian Eagle, from Cork, and the Limerick, from Dublin, landed 1200 Irish Paupers at Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. The new comers, who were in the most wretched state of distress, were forthwith distributed over the eastern part of the metropolis. The same vessels landed 1200 Irish paupers on Sunday week.”

After walking down the stairs, I crossed over onto the foreshore. The following photo is looking to the west. The stones of the stairs running into the Thames.

Alderman Stairs

The pier of HMS President the Royal Naval Reserve unit associated with London is adjacent to Alderman Stairs.

If you look at old maps of east London, along the River Thames, adjacent to many of the river stairs was a public house. Probably this should not be a surprise as being next to where people were boarding or arriving on ships, was a good place to attract trade.

Sailors or passengers arriving after a long journey would probably welcome a quick stay in a pub after arriving onshore.

Adjacent to Alderman Stairs was the Cock and Lion public house, The pub had been next to the stairs from the 18th century to some point in the 1920s when it was demolished.

It is shown in the following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, just to the right of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The pub is mentioned in a number of articles, including  the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, dated the 1st September 1832, where a sailor, his shipmate and two women landed at Alderman Stairs from the Amity passage vessel and went straight into the Cock and Lion public house.

It was when he was in the pub that the sailor found his pocket book was missing, and accused the two women of stealing it.

One of the women asked a waterman to then row them across to the Europa Tavern at Rotherhithe, where one of the women asked the landlord to change a £5 note. Suspecting that this had been stolen from the sailor, the waterman snatched the £5 note, and both women were taken into custody.

This report, along with so many others highlight a way in which we see the north and south banks of the river has changed.

Today, the north and south banks are considered part of north and south London and therefore different. Reading books and newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries, this separation was not that apparent – north and south banks were seen as part of the river environment rather than as different parts of London.

Numerous reports of events at Alderman Stairs, include casual crossings of the river, as in the example above, where it was probably thought very normal to cross the river from a pub on the north, to a pub on the south bank – all part of the same river ecosystem.

The river was full, not only with passenger and cargo ships, but also with waterman, the river based taxi services of the time, offering quick transport across and along the river.

Not so easy today, however a couple of Saturday’s ago I was in the Gun on the Isle of Dogs for late afternoon, followed by the Angel at Rotherhithe for the evening. Rather than a waterman, the Jubilee Line provided cross river transport between the two.

The following photo shows the view looking east. The pier extending into the river is where the Thames pathway returns to the water edge.

Alderman Stairs

The boats in the river are at Hermitage Moorings.

Alderman Stairs were a reference point for the ships mooring in the river, and there are many records of the arrivals by the stairs.

From the Illustrated London News on the 23rd December 1843:

“CHRISTMAS FARE – On Sunday night the Dublin Steam Navigation Company’s steam-packet Royal William, Captain Swainson, arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth. She brought a miscellaneous cargo, part of which consisted of a large quantity of geese, turkeys, and other Christmas fare, for the metropolitan markets. In the course of Saturday and Sunday a number of steam-packets arrived in the river with large quantities of geese, turkeys, and other kinds of poultry, for Christmas cheer. Last week, several vessels arrived at Fresh-wharf, London-bridge with cargoes of varied fruits. Most of the stage-coaches which arrived in the metropolis on Tuesday and during the week brought very large quantities of geese, turkeys, hares, &c.”

The following photo shows the view looking back from the bottom of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

The stairs consist of the steps up to street level and a paved stretch along the foreshore that runs into the river. This paved stretched raises the stairs above the foreshore to provide a flat walkway and without the mud, sand and random debris that litters the foreshore.

Alderman Stairs were also a departure point for regular shipping routes for both passengers and parcels. Departures and routes were regularly advertised in the newspapers, for example, in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on the 18th April 1838, the St. George Steam Packet Company were advertising that:

“Vessels sail regularly from off Alderman-stairs, below the Tower for:

PLYMOUTH, FALMOUTH and CORK, and taking goods and passengers for Liverpool, every Saturday morning at 8 o’clock.

EXETER, calling off Deal, Ryde and Cowes (weather permitting), every Wednesday morning, at 8 o’clock.

BOSTON – The SCOTIA, on Tuesday morning, the 10th April , at 4 o’clock, and every succeeding Tuesday at the same hour.

STOCKTON (at reduced fares), calling off Scarborough and Whitby, weather permitting – The EMERALD ISLE, every Saturday night at 12 o’clock, returning every Wednesday.

Goods to be sent to the St. George Steam-wharf, Lower East Smithfield.”

Passengers arriving off Alderman Stairs ran the risk of being overcharged for their transport between ship and shore, as this article from the Morning Post on the 29th September 1847 reports:

“MONSTROUS OVERCHARGE BY A WATERMAN – Yesterday, John Thomas Jones, a waterman, appeared before Mr Yardley, to answer the complaint of Mr. Edward Sole Munico, wine merchant of Trinity-square, for making the following grievous overcharge.

On Sunday the 29th of August, Mr Munico, a lady, and a gentleman, were passengers in the AJAX, a Cork steamer, which arrived that day off the Alderman’s Stairs, Lower East Smithfield. After the vessel was moored, the defendant, who was in his boat alongside, came on board, and was engaged by Mr. Munico to convey him and his friends and luggage which consisted of seven packages not exceeding five cwt, to the Alderman’s Stairs exactly opposite. The party was no sooner afloat that the defendant, who had a partner with him, said he could not land his fare at the Alderman’s Stairs, but would row to the Tower Stairs, or any other place. Mr. Munico then directed him to row to the Dublin Wharf, adjoining the Alderman’s Stairs, where the complainant wished to deposit some of his luggage, intended to be shipped to India. No landing could be effected at Dublin Wharf because it was a Sunday, and the boat was rowed into Alderman’s Stairs, where the defendant demanded 12s 6d as his fare, and would not allow Mr. Munico and his friends to land till it was paid. Mr. Munico expostulated with him for some time, but with little effect; at last he reduced his claim to 8s 6d, which was paid to him and the passengers and luggage were landed. the utmost that the defendant was entitled to claim was 3d per each passenger only, and they were entitled to carry 56lbs weight of luggage each. Beyond that the quantity the waterman was entitled to charge 1s per cwt, which would make the total amount of his fare only 4s 3d.”

The report then states that the waterman had no right to ply on a Sabbath between the steamer and Alderman’s Stairs, as that privilege belonged to the Sunday ferrymen, who rented it off the Watermen’s Company. The defendant was fined 20s, however Mr. Munico interceded on behalf of the waterman, on which the penalty was reduced to 10s and costs.

A lesson which also applies today, to agree a fare before getting into a river boat, or a taxi.

A report in the Evening Chronicle on the 30th October 1840 also highlights the risk to travelers arriving in London by Alderman Stairs.

The report was about another waterman, a certain William Vallance, who was a member of the ‘Jacob-street gang of steam boat rangers’. In the reported case, Vallance had been directed to meet the Dublin steam-ships when they arrived off Alderman Stairs, however the members of the Jacobs Street gang would persuade their passengers to be taken to another landing point where they could be charged significantly more. The Jacob Street gang would also “on arrival of a steam ship the Jacob-street gang managed to board the vessel while the crew were busily engaged in mooring the vessel, and seized any luggage they could lay their hands on, which they lowered into a boat, generally having a fellow of very questionable character ready to receive it and stow it away”.

Theft of goods from the ships moored on the Thames and from the warehouses that lined the river was a continuous problem, and had led to the formation of the Thames River Police,

The Thames river Police would frequently question people carrying goods along the river, on land, or at the river stairs. If they could not give a satisfactory explanation for why they were in possession of the goods, they would be arrested for theft. Newspapers often carried long lists of those arrested, and the goods they were found with. On the 3rd September 1821, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser included a “E. Bateman who was found with 1lb of sugar at Alderman Stairs” without being able to give any satisfactory explanation of why he was in possession of the sugar.

The remains of old piers can still be seen:

Alderman Stairs

Ships moored off Alderman Stairs could also be purchased. On the 12th of January 1809, you could have bought the “good Brig LITTLE WILLIAM, square stern, foreign built, and free; burthen 84 tons per register, is abundantly found in good stores, and can be sent to sea at a very trifling expense; is well adapted for the Mediterranean or any other Trade her burthen may suit. Now lying off Alderman’s-stairs, John Gofton, Master.”

The view looking west, under the decked area in frount of the converted warehouse to the west of Alderman Stairs:

Alderman Stairs

Reports involving Alderman Stairs also highlighted the dangers of passenger shipping, for example this article from the Evening Chronicle on the 17th October 1838:

“DREADFUL STEAM-PACKET COLLISION – The non-arrival of the Dublin Steam Packet Company’s vessel Shannon, Captain Pym, at her mooring of the St. Katherine’s Dock, on Sunday, or yesterday morning from Dublin, Falmouth and Plymouth, excited considerable apprehensions for her safety,and that of the passengers and crew.

These fears were still more heightened, owing to the recent heavy gales which she must have encountered at sea; and in consequence of information having been received at the company’s office, St. John’s-street, Minories, by yesterday morning’s mail, from Portsmouth, that the steam-ship Thames, Captain Williams, belonging to the same company, which sailed from the river for Dublin on Saturday morning last, with a great number of passengers, had put into that port (Portsmouth) early on Sunday morning, with extensive damage, having been in violent contact with a large steam-vessel off Brighton, about twelve o-clock on Saturday night. When the collision took place both vessels were proceeding at full speed, although the night was dark and stormy.

As might be expected, the consternation among the passengers most of whom were in their berths, was frightful in the extreme – doubtless rendered the more so on account of the recent dreadful loss of the Forfarshire, and other steam packet disasters. The steam-ship with which the Thames was in collision was believed to be the Shannon, from Dublin for London, although this could not be correctly ascertained, the steamer having proceeded on her voyage, and not again seen. 

These particulars were received in the city by the Portsmouth mail yesterday morning, and soon spread through the metropolis to the distress of those who expected relatives or friends to be on board, the Shannon not having at that time arrived; and the belief in consequence being entertained that after the collision with the Thames she had gone down with all on board.

Yesterday, soon after noon, these evil forebodings were happily dispelled; the Shannon having arrived at her moorings off the Alderman-stairs, Lower East Smithfield.”

A final look back up the stairs:

Alderman Stairs

These stairs are so quiet today. There are no waterman rowing their passengers across the river. Sea going passenger and cargo ships no longer travel this far up the river (apart from the cruise ships berthing alongside HMS Belfast), but stand on the Thames foreshore, look up the stairs, and imagine the countless thousands of people who have used Alderman Stairs as their gateway to the river.

alondoninheritance.com